ALBANY — Long Islanders say the top issues in this presidential election are terrorism and the economy, according to a Newsday/News 12/Siena College poll.
The poll of Nassau and Suffolk voters found that 67 percent rated keeping America safe from terrorism as a crucial issue, and 61 percent said defeating the Islamic State group, or ISIS, also was crucial. Making sure Medicare and Social Security provide for Americans when they retire was next at 56 percent, and creating economic growth came in at 55 percent.
When asked which was the single most important issue for the next president to address, keeping America safe from terrorism and creating economic growth tied at 28 percent.
Siena Research Institute director Donald P. Levy said increased concern about terrorism can happen soon after a terrorist attack, such as the recent bombings in New York City and New Jersey, which happened in the middle of polling.
“That’s not shocking, but it’s a change to have it bubble up equal to the economy and jobs,” Levy said.
The poll questioned 833 likely voters Sept. 14-20 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.
Asked how likely they were to watch Monday’s presidential debate at Hofstra University, 84 percent said they were very likely or almost certain to watch.
Among other issues that respondents viewed as crucial for the next president to address were:
- Improving race relations, 47 percent.
- Controlling the federal budget deficit, 46 percent.
- Protecting the environment, 39 percent.
- Addressing illegal immigration, 34 percent.
Overall, the poll found Long Island voters favor Republican Donald Trump over Democrat Hillary Clinton 43-39 percent in a four-way race that includes Libertarian Gary Johnson and Green Party candidate Jill Stein.
Trump trusted more
Voters said neither candidate was trustworthy: Clinton by 65-32 percent and Trump by 56-39 percent. When asked who was more trustworthy, Trump came out on top, 49-43 percent.
The poll shows Clinton is dogged most by her use of a personal email server while secretary of state, then stonewalling the release of emails, as well as the way she responded to the deadly terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
Voters are most concerned about Trump’s changing positions on issues depending on what group he’s speaking to and the often gruff and bombastic manner in which he presents his issues, according to the poll.
Although Long Islanders overall favored Trump and pegged terrorism issues as their top concern, 54 percent of voters said Clinton, the former secretary of state and U.S. senator, is qualified to be commander in chief compared with 41 percent who felt Trump was qualified. In a head-to-head comparison of who is more qualified to be commander in chief, Clinton was preferred 52-42 percent over Trump.
“That’s consistent in other polls because I think as secretary of state and being involved in some military operations, she has been pretty tough,” said Helmut Norpoth, political science professor at Stony Brook University. “She has always been a sort of hawkish Democrat.”
Levy said he’s not surprised Clinton would be seen as more qualified, but noted the difference is relatively small and reflects the way the electorate is split over Trump and Clinton.
Working with Congress
The poll also found Clinton had a slight edge, 49-46 percent, in voters’ view of who would best work with Congress “to move America forward.”
But a majority — 57-35 percent — believe Clinton hasn’t been open enough about her health record. On Sept. 11, Clinton, 68, had to be supported as she walked from the Ground Zero memorial because of what her staff later said was pneumonia.
Respondents believe 49-42 percent that Trump, 70, has been as open as voters should expect regarding his medical records.
Meena Bose, professor and director of the Peter S. Kalikow Center for the Study of the American Presidency at Hofstra University, said the two competing priorities of national security and domestic prosperity have long been neck and neck with voters.
“The two go together,” Bose said. “We need economic prosperity to be secure. Particularly in the post-9/11 world, national security is front and center and the sense of threat and danger has never really dissipated 15 years later and when you look at the rise of ISIS and what happened last weekend, finding bombs in Manhattan and in New Jersey.”
William Sanders, 79, a retiree and undecided voter from Williston Park, is like many Long Islanders in the poll. He believes protecting the country against terrorism and defeating ISIS is the top priority, but he’s unsure which, if any, candidate is up to the job.
“This so-called war is more like playing patty-cake, patty-cake,” Sanders said. “We have had opportunities to make military blows on ISIS and didn’t take them.”
“Neither has it,” he said.
Dan Coyne, 65, a West Babylon contractor, said he doesn’t think about terrorism “that much at all because I don’t think it makes one bit of difference if I can’t go to work every day.”
“I own my own business,” said Coyne, who supports Trump. Why? “The fact that he writes and signs paychecks and creates jobs.”
Clinton supporter Barbara Fonti, 52, of Cold Spring Harbor also sees the economy as a key issue. “For me, business growth is one of the most important issues, probably for me it is the most important thing. I think if we have growth in the economy and more jobs for people, we can do a better on all these other issues,” she said.