Survey: Large majority of Floridians still feeling financially stressed

Job seekers listen as Kaysara Mandry, center, talks about job opportunities at the Domino's booth during a job fair in Miami Lakes, July 15, 2015.
Job seekers listen as Kaysara Mandry, center, talks about job opportunities at the Domino's booth during a job fair in Miami Lakes, July 15, 2015. AP

Florida voters remain financially stressed, but they don’t think they’re being overtaxed, and they also are supportive of resuming diplomatic relations with Cuba, according to the latest USF-Nielsen Sunshine State Survey released Tuesday.

The wide-ranging survey conducted July 30 through Aug. 16 found that 71 percent of Floridians continue to feel the effects of the Great Recession and identify the economy as the issue that remains most important to them.

Yet, in the second installment of the survey of 1,251 random adults, people identified the biggest threats to the state economy as loss of jobs, government waste and inefficiency — at both the state and local level — and undocumented residents and workers.

“What this release shows is that Floridians are still stressed economically,’’ said University of South Florida public affairs professor Susan MacManus, who directed the survey. “They are very much still looking somewhat judgmentally, and in a negative fashion, toward state and local leadership. And they are hopeful for attention to transportation and infrastructure.”

Most people pointed to either investing in education and training, or improving the state’s infrastructure — each with 23 percent — as the best way to improve the state’s job climate. Only 15 percent pointed to cutting or limiting taxes and regulations.

The survey shows that support for improving the state’s infrastructure, especially transportation, increased from 17 percent in 2014 to 23 percent this year, while support for cutting or limiting taxes and regulations dropped from 21 percent in 2014 to 15 percent in 2015.

“Along with population growth comes more congestion and longer commutes — which is at least a partial explanation for growing support for infrastructure improvements,’’ she said.

Among other topics:

Relations with Cuba

More than half, 56 percent, of those surveyed favor freeing up diplomatic relations with Cuba while 26 percent oppose it and 18 percent have no opinion.

MacManus noted that Cuba was getting much attention when the pollsters were in the field. President Barack Obama announced on July 1 that the United States and Cuba would re-establish diplomatic relations, and it became effective on July 30. Media coverage generally reported that supporters saw economic benefits to Floridians from the change, while opponents saw economic gains as largely accruing to the repressive regime in Cuba.

The report found that support for opening relations with Cuba was highest among men (63 percent), people under 65 (58 percent), households with an income of $75,000 or greater (63 percent), and people who have lived in Florida 20 or more years (57 percent).

Regional differences also were reflected. Residents of the I-4 corridor and the Miami to Palm Beach region, which both have large concentrations of Hispanics — are more likely than the state average to support normalizing relations. Residents of the North and Southwest regions are less likely than the state average to support normalization.

Casino gambling

The survey also showed that 67 percent of those polled support casino gambling, but people are divided over where it should be located. One third, 34 percent, favor an expansion with Nevada-style casinos; 33 percent want it restricted to Seminole Tribe facilities; and 20 percent want no gambling at all.

With gambling, regional differences mattered as well. Residents of Miami to Palm Beach are slightly more likely than the state average — 37 percent to 34 percent — to support Nevada-style casinos.

Opposition to any casino gambling at all increases with age, and is highest among residents of North Florida, who oppose it by 32 percent.

Job incentives

When it comes to economic development, the results also show there is little agreement throughout the state about the best approach to economic development.

Despite Gov. Rick Scott’s travel across the nation to bring outside jobs to Florida, the survey found that for the first time since 2008, more Floridians — 45 percent — would prefer for the governor to focus on maintaining existing businesses and jobs, while 43 percent say the state should focus on attracting new businesses and jobs to the state.

The majority rate their taxes at the state and local level to be about right relative to the quality of services received, but spending levels are perceived as wasteful, not efficient.

“The reason why so many people regard government as wasteful at the moment is tied to the fact that so many people feel stress in their household finances,’’ MacManus said. “It’s long been a pattern in government finance … if people are having to make tough choices, any discussion of taxes and services by government is regarded as very wasteful.”

Uber regulations

The survey also asked people what they thought of regulating ride-sharing companies such as Uber and Lyft. The results showed that 89 percent believe such companies should carry liability insurance, and 56 percent believe their prices should be regulated.

Contact Mary Ellen Klas at meklas@miamiherald.com. Follow @MaryEllenKlas.