More than half of Kentucky voters say creating jobs and improving the economy is the top issue facing the United States, and two-thirds of voters say Kentucky's U.S. Senate candidates have an obligation to debate each other.
According to the latest Bluegrass Poll, 56 percent of respondents answered "economy and jobs" when asked to choose the nation's most pressing issue. In addition to jobs, respondents were given six other topics to choose from: immigration, foreign policy, health care, energy, social issues, and taxes and spending.
Economy and jobs was the top issue among all demographics and regions of the state.
"Like they always say — it's the economy, stupid," said poll respondent Neil Peterie of Bowling Green, who agreed to a follow-up interview with the Herald-Leader. "I mean the whole society operates on the economy. It's just a basic and encompasses almost everything else."
Immigration placed a distant second, with 10 percent of respondents saying it was the biggest issue facing the U.S. Among Republicans, that number jumped to 15 percent, while just 9 percent of Democrats said it was the top issue.
"Well, what's going on south of the border with all of these South American kids coming in, we aren't doing anything to take care of it," said poll respondent Mark Lee Troutman of Philpot. "Those folks have figured out the loopholes to get into the U.S. It is related to our government and other issues right now. I'm not 100 percent happy with (Obama's) politics right now."
Both health care and taxes and spending were the top issues for 9 percent of those surveyed.
Foreign policy, which is increasingly dominating the airwaves as tensions with Russia increase and unrest grows in the Middle East, was rated as the most important issue by only 4 percent. Social issues was rated the top issue by 3 percent.
Only 2 percent said energy was most important, even though U.S. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes have focused their campaigns heavily on the decline in Eastern Kentucky's coal economy and related environmental issues.
The poll of 714 registered voters was sponsored by the Herald-Leader and WKYT-TV in Lexington and the Courier-Journal and WHAS-TV in Louisville. It was conducted by SurveyUSA from July 18 through July 23 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.
Grimes has sought to make jobs one of her top issues, releasing and promoting a jobs plan to improve the economy in Kentucky. However, the plan does not estimate how many jobs it might create, how much it would cost to implement or how she would pay for it.
In the poll, Grimes scored better among respondents when asked which candidate they trust more to create jobs. Forty-one percent chose Grimes, 37 percent picked McConnell and 22 percent were undecided.
Earlier this year, Democrats saw an opening to attack McConnell on the economy after he was asked by the editor of the Beattyville Enterprise about bringing jobs to the area. The newspaper reported that McConnell said "economic development is a Frankfort issue."
"That is not my job," McConnell told the editor. "It is the primary responsibility of the state Commerce Cabinet."
McConnell later said that he thought the reporter was asking about a specific project, and had the journalist stayed to hear him speak at the event, he would have heard him talk about creating and protecting jobs.
As the campaigns continue to trade jabs in press releases and television ads, an overwhelming majority of Kentuckians said McConnell and Grimes should debate the issues with each other.
When asked if the two candidates have an obligation to debate, 66 percent of respondents said yes.
"I think they should debate because I feel like we should see how they really both stand and see what they have to say, what they oppose and see what really comes out of it," said poll respondent Dean Mullins of Vicco. "I don't feel informed because they haven't really said anything that helps anyone."
He added: "I wish they would talk more about jobs and what they would do for our state. How they'll produce more jobs for people, what they'll do for our economy around here."
McConnell issued a debate challenge to Grimes the day after the May 20 primary, saying they should debate on television three times before Labor Day with only a timekeeper and no live audience.
The Grimes campaign rejected that but has said she will attend a debate hosted by KET on Oct. 13. McConnell has not committed to the KET debate but agreed to participate in an Aug. 20 candidate forum sponsored by Kentucky Farm Bureau. Grimes has not said whether she will attend the forum.
"I want to know what's right for the people," said poll respondent Katy Moody of Radcliff. "If they don't debate, we don't know why they want to be elected. I don't see any reason why they shouldn't debate. Just think logically about it."