Suburban residents say personal finances still hurting, Hofstra survey finds

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More than half of the nation's suburban dwellers say their finances are weak, even as the number of people who have rebounded from the recession is on the rise, according to a new Hofstra University poll released Wednesday.

Fifty-five percent of suburbanites who responded to the survey, conducted for the university's National Center for Suburban Studies, gave a negative rating to their overall personal finances, and 41 percent said they live paycheck-to-paycheck most of the time.

About one-third of the respondents -- 34 percent -- said they are better off financially than they were at the start of the recession in 2008, up from 28 percent in the center's 2012 survey.

"The suburbs are hurting, and while they may be recovering, the pain is still there," said Lawrence Levy, director of the Suburban Studies center.

The poll, the eighth by Hofstra's suburban center, aimed to explore economic, social and political views of residents in the nation's suburbs -- believed to be swing voters -- two months before the congressional elections.

"The parties and candidates that best understand these relatively moderate, independent voters have the best chance of controlling the national agenda," Levy said.

The findings were based on 1,546 telephone interviews in English and Spanish of adults 18 and older living across the United States. The survey, conducted from July 21 to Aug. 7, was designed and executed by Princeton Survey Research Associates International. The margin of error for the total sample was plus or minus 3.4 percentage points; for suburban residents, the margin of error was 4.9 percentage points.

In U.S. House of Representative races, 42 percent of suburban registered voters said they will vote for the Democratic candidate and 41 percent said they will vote for the Republican candidate. One in five suburban independents, 20 percent, said they do not know for whom they will vote.

Michael Dawidziak, pollster and Sayville-based political consultant, said suburbanites are "definitely up for grabs."

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"They are waiting for somebody to show leadership on the economic issue," said Dawidziak, who has worked on four Republican presidential campaigns. "Both parties paid lip service to helping Main Street, which is the economic recovery that the suburbs are dependent on, but nothing has really happened there."

The large percentage of suburban residents living paycheck-to-paycheck "should be a reality check for politicians," said Resi Cooper, Jericho-based political and business consultant who has worked for Hillary Rodham Clinton.

"It shows that the middle class is really struggling," she said.

The poll also found confidence in the federal government is up slightly, but faith in local government, particularly among minorities, has dropped. President Barack Obama's approval rating dipped to 39 percent, down from 45 percent in 2012.

For the first time, suburbanites overwhelmingly supported gay marriage, driven largely by so-called Millennials and Generation X-ers in the suburbs. Overall suburban confidence in local police has fallen from 86 percent to 78 percent between 2008 and 2014, the survey found.

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Suburban residents on finances, schools, crime

55% Report their personal finances are weak.

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41% Say they are living paycheck-to-paycheck most of the time.

47% Say the quality of their public schools is a problem, compared with 37 percent in 2010.

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64% Say crime, drugs and violence are at least a small problem where they live, the largest number since the center's National Suburban Poll began in 2008.

53% Of suburbanites say home prices in their neighborhood have gone up over the past year, compared with 23 percent in 2010.

SOURCE: EIGHTH NATIONAL SUBURBAN SURVEY; THE NATIONAL CENTER FOR SUBURBAN STUDIES; HOFSTRA UNIVERSITY

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