A hurricane might be spinning off the coast of Florida this week, but in the long run , state residents are most concerned about the economy and jobs, according to an annual survey released by the University of South Florida.
The university and The Nielsen Company began the roll-out of their Sunshine State Survey, which focuses on issues and instead of horse-race questions about presidential candidates or U.S. Senate races, on Thursday. This time around, Nielsen interviewed 1,248 Florida residents from Sept. 1 to Sept. 19, with a margin of error of 2.77 percentage points.
The top concern was once again the economy and jobs, with 24 percent of Floridians surveyed saying that was the most important issue facing the state. However, that's down significantly from four years ago --- the last presidential election year --- when 44 percent of those polled chose the economy.
"The notion that the economy has not fully recovered is evident with the economy/jobs cited as the most important issue facing Florida and the lack of well-paying jobs as the greatest threat to the state's economy," said Susan MacManus, a political science professor at USF.
This campaign cycle, the environment is a far bigger concern than it was four years ago, with 13 percent of residents saying that was the most important issue, placing it second on the list. In 2012, only 2 percent agreed, putting the issue outside the top 10.
The percentage of Floridians pegging crime as their leading concern more than doubled, from 5 percent in 2012 to 11 percent this year. The answers to the open-ended question varied a bit, with "crime/drugs" showing up four years ago, and "crime/policing" in 2016.
The effect of recent, high-profile shootings involving police officers appears to show up in the numbers. Of all the demographic and economic groups included in the survey, African-Americans were most concerned with crime and policing, with 27 percent saying that was the most important issue.
State government still doesn't get high marks for helping to create jobs, with 28 percent of residents saying the state does an excellent or good job in that respect, 42 percent saying it was fair and 26 percent going with poor. However, that's a substantial increase from four years ago, when 51 percent said the state did poorly in that regard, 33 percent going with fair and just 12 percent saying the state's efforts were excellent or good.
Voters in different regions, meanwhile, rate the state's chief environmental problem differently. Overall, 34 percent of residents --- powered by majorities in the Naples and Palm Beach areas, and strong pluralities in Tampa Bay and Orlando --- said water-related issues topped the list. Only 18 percent chose climate change, but 27 percent of those in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale region went with that threat, compared to just 22 percent who said water-related problems were more significant.
Other findings released Thursday include that most residents believe raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour would be going in the right direction (51 percent); a plurality is opposed to offshore oil drilling (47 percent, compared to 32 percent who say it would be going in the right direction); and a sizable majority (54 percent) believes the state shouldn't start to collect sales tax on internet purchases.
There's more data coming. The survey is released over a period of three weeks.
HILLARY CLINTON'S FLORIDA TRAVELING TRAVAILS
Neither presidential campaign has neglected Florida, but one candidate --- Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton --- seems to be canceling more events for more uncontrollable reasons.
Clinton's running mate, U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, was planning an early September swing through North Florida --- until Hurricane Hermine became a threat on the days Kaine was supposed to be campaigning. The events were called off.
Former President Bill Clinton was supposed to journey to North Florida on behalf of his wife late last month --- but that trip was canceled as well, when Clinton was tapped to fly to Israel for the funeral of former Israeli President Shimon Peres.
Then, President Barack Obama was scheduled to swing through Miami-Dade County this week to stump for his former secretary of state. But Hurricane Matthew put a stop to those plans as well.
The Clinton campaign hasn't been alone. Matthew's approach also scotched a planned three-day Ivanka Trump "Women for Trump" bus tour that was slated to kick off in Doral Wednesday and travel to Naples, Sarasota, Tampa and Orlando in support of Republican Donald Trump's White House bid.
TWEET OF THE WEEK: "Time is up, Hurricane #Matthew is approaching Florida. If you are in an evacuation zone, leave now."---Gov. Rick Scott (@FLGovScott) on Thursday in advance of Hurricane Matthew.