The economy has emerged as the top concern for voters in the upcoming Presidential election in the United States. The southern state of Florida, which could play an important role in the presidential election, has been hit hard by the U.S. housing crisis and a new Mason-Dixon poll finds that nearly 70 percent of voters view the economy as the most important issue in the campaign. Florida has one of the highest mortgage foreclosure rates in the country, according to real estate data firm RealtyTrac, and could be decisive to the outcome of November's election. Steve Mort reports on how America's economic climate is shaping voter opinion in Florida.
Tammy Graham sells houses in the city of Lakeland, Florida. The real estate agent says many people who bought homes in recent years here using sub-prime loans are now facing foreclosure.
"I've had people ask me, you know, 'I'm having problems feeding my children," Graham said. "Should I stop paying my mortgage?' And that's a sad state of affairs."
Graham says in this election, she's paying close attention to the Presidential candidates' plans for the economy.
She says many others feel the same way here in the hard hit I-4 corridor, named for the highway that connects the cities of Orlando and Tampa.
And further south, while gleaming condominium buildings dot the Miami skyline, many remain empty amid the U.S. housing crunch.
Independent pollster, Jim Kane, who teaches at the University of Florida, says recent turmoil in financial markets is adding to the concerns of voters.
"It's going to make the voters far more nervous," Kane said. "And that's going to drive more people to the polls, in my opinion.
Some job-seekers at this Lakeland employment office say they are more engaged in this election because of the economy. Laurie Phillips recently lost her job as a graphic artist.
"I have to admit, I really never paid attention to any of the campaigns before," she said. "So, this year I've been watching the Republicans and the Democrats. It's going to make a big influence on me, how the economy is, how I vote".
Both Presidential candidates have spent time in Florida talking about the economy. Recent polls show Democrat Barack Obama narrowly leading Republican John McCain in the state.
J.P. Sasser works in a car body-shop in the small town of Pahokee. He served as mayor of this town and is a life-long Republican. But Sasser says after eight years of a Republican presidency, he intends to vote for Obama, "Even though everybody's saying he doesn't have any experience, look at all that experience that's in Washington now that got us where we are," Sasser said. "I think Wall Street is going to elect Obama president."
But Mark Howard from the business magazine, Florida Trend, is not so sure. He does not believe voters blame Republican McCain for Florida's current economic woes. "I think people are still looking for which candidate is going to step up with something that they feel is a better approach or a better response to economic conditions," Howard said.
Economic hard times, combined with the volatility on financial markets in recent days, have many voters here looking for answers. Both the Republican and Democratic campaigns in Florida expect the issue to drive people to the polls in record numbers this election.