The economy ranks high with Chattanooga voters

The economy ranks high with Chattanooga voters

November 8th, 2012 by Dave Flessner and Shelly Bradbury in Local Regional News
Illustration by Laura McNutt /Times Free Press.

POLL: Do you think you will be better off in four years?

The economy was Chattanooga voters' chief concern Tuesday, but a majority expect their own financial situation will get better in the next year.

With the economy on the mend, nearly seven in 10 supporters of President Barack Obama and nearly half of those backing Mitt Romney said they think they will be doing better a year from now, according to responses to a Chattanooga Times Free Press survey taken during early voting and Election Day.

"I don't want to focus on the negative," Red Bank music shop owner Jonathan Cathell said. "I'm not going to sit around and wait -- I'm going to make the changes to get better for myself. I try to stay in a positive state of mind."

Nonetheless, Obama's re-election caused some voters extra concern about the direction of the economy. Stocks fell Wednesday to their lowest level since August on the first day of trading after the election. Some voters remain worried that the sluggish economy isn't recovering fast enough under the current economic policy.

"It's a real bleak outlook right now for small contractors like me in this area," said Doug Onbey, a 56-year-old electrical contractor who shut down his own business last week and went to work for another contractor. "We're thankful to have big companies like Volkswagen that employ major contractors. But we're not seeing many jobs in the foreseeable future for small contractors and I'm afraid it's going to get worse before it gets better."

Deborah Lyons, a real estate agent for Keller Williams Realty, said the 2-year-old economic recovery "is very mixed."

Chattanooga's jobless rate has declined from a peak of 10.1 percent in June 2009 to 7.1 percent last month, according to the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development. Housing starts and prices have rebounded and manufacturing employment is growing again in Tennessee.

"I think people are looking at the indicators and seeing the modest, but fairly stable employment growth month after month and people are getting convinced that perhaps things are getting better," said Dr. David Penn, director of the Business and Economic Research Center at Middle Tennessee State University.

But Lyons said economic fears persist for many.

"Almost everybody I talk with is concerned about their jobs and they are more cautious about spending money," she said. "My personal income has been way off for the past four years and I'm definitely worried about my own future."

Economic worries overshadowed concerns about taxes, health care, the debt and moral issues among voters. Nearly 400 Tennessee and Georgia voters in 36 precincts plus six early voting sites responded to the survey.

Not surprisingly, Obama supporters tended to be more optimistic at the polls than Romney supporters, who were wanting a change in the White House and U.S. economic policies.

A majority of area residents surveyed, including more than 56 percent of Hamilton County residents, voted for a change in the White House and favored Mitt Romney.

Hamilton County Republican Party Chairman Marty Von Schaaf said he thinks Romney supporters have a better view of the economy's direction.

"I think Romney voters sound like they are being realistic in how long it would take to turn the economy around," he said. "And Obama voters are still drinking the Kool-Aid."

Still, 49 percent of Romney supporters said their own financial situation will improve in the next year. Romney supporter Terry Pope said he doesn't think the economy is getting worse.

"I think it has stabilized," he said. "Things are going OK, they're not great. They could be a lot better. I think it has the potential to get worse depending on what Congress does with the budget issue."

Cathell said he doesn't think the economy is as bad as many people believe it is, and he chooses not to worry about it.

"I don't sit around and worry about things I don't have control over," he said, "I worry about the things I do have control over."