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    Floridians favor military response

    A new poll shows they overwhelmingly support the president and tighter immigration restrictions, too.

    More poll graphics here

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published September 23, 2001

    In the state where most of the suspected hijackers spent time before this month's terrorist attacks, Florida voters are more worried about their family's safety and want tighter restrictions on immigration.

    A new St. Petersburg Times poll shows Florida voters overwhelming approve of the way President Bush and Congress have handled the crisis. They also strongly back military action by America -- even if the war on terrorism lasts longer than a year and prompts more attacks on U.S. soil.

    But that support is tempered by significant concern about first identifying those responsible for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that left more than 6,000 dead or missing.

    Voters in the Sunshine State's ethnic melting pot overwhelmingly want more restrictions on immigration, yet that support drops when they are asked about specific changes. Three-fourths oppose denying foreign students admission to American universities, and more than half oppose prohibiting U.S. flight schools from training foreign students. Five of the suspected hijackers attended flight schools in Florida.

    A large majority of voters are willing to ease civil rights protections to fight terrorists -- but within limits. Most would support suspending due process protections to indefinitely detain legal immigrants suspected of crimes, for instance, but would oppose phone taps without a court order.

    "People have been shocked, but we're quickly pulling our way through it. They want to take prudent steps to increase security, but aren't going to throw out the Constitution in the process," said pollster Larry Harris, noting the Florida poll results mirror those of national polls.

    The telephone poll of 807 registered voters in Florida was conducted Sept. 19-21 by the Washington-based Political/Media Research Inc. for the St. Petersburg Times, along with the Orlando Sentinel, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and three television stations. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

    The numbers underscore widespread unease among Floridians as the country continues to grieve and prepare for military action.

    Roughly 70 percent of voters think the national and state economy will suffer because of attacks. Half think their personal finances will be hurt. The Tampa Bay area appears to be the least pessimistic region in the state, with 53 percent of voters saying the national economy will decline and 54 percent saying the state economy will be damaged.

    Personal safety is also a concern.

    More than half of all voters are more worried about their family's safety since the attacks. Forty three percent said they are more likely now to find alternative transportation to avoid flying.

    "You just don't know who to trust any more. . . . Even with all the safety (measures), I wouldn't fly if I had to," said Dorothye Reed, a retired educator from Tampa who participated in the poll. "My husband and I are avid football fans, but we won't go to any games. I'm afraid about going to places where large crowds are gathered."

    That anxiety is reflected in a willingness among Floridians to grant law enforcement more authority and give up personal conveniences in the name of security. An overwhelming majority want armed marshals on every commercial plane, support the ban on curbside luggage check-in at airports and would pay for tighter security with higher ticket prices. More than half of Florida voters would eliminate carry-on luggage.

    The tragedy has united Florida just as it has America.

    Just 10 months ago, the state was bitterly divided by a disputed presidential election that ended when the U.S. Supreme Court awarded Bush a 537-vote victory here. But with war preparations under way, Florida voters are united behind President Bush. More than 85 percent of Democrats and 95 percent of Republicans approve of Bush's handling of the crisis.

    While more than nine in 10 African-American voters in Florida voted against Bush for president, nearly eight in 10 of those voters now approve of Bush's handling of the crisis.

    Indeed, on most every question asked, the poll shows few significant differences among demographic groups. The degree of support varies among different groups -- women and Democrats have slightly less appetite for military action than men and Republicans, for example.

    But typical political divisions among Floridians have all but disappeared when it comes to this tragedy. Support for military response is as strong in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area as it is in the Panhandle, where there is a strong military influence.

    Still, beneath the strong support for Bush, military action and tighter security measures, the poll points to some subtler shadings of opinion.

    Roughly one in three voters support air strikes against targets connected to Osama bin Laden only if it can be "proven beyond doubt" he was responsible for the attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center. Nearly the same percentage oppose air strikes against countries that are deemed to support bin Laden but can't be linked to the terrorist attacks.

    "There's a good degree of concern and thought going into this," said pollster Harris. "It's, 'Whatever we're going to do, let's be sure it's done right -- not necessarily cautious, but that it's measured and appropriate.' "

    Pinellas Park retiree Madeline Walsh, one of those polled, reflects that thinking. She supports air strikes but has serious qualms about ground assaults.

    "I don't want to be sending our boys onto that terrain," she said, referring to Afghanistan. "Look what happened to the Russian soldiers there."

    Few states have more experience with immigrants than Florida, and the poll shows 81 percent of Florida voters want more immigration restrictions. White and black voters are more enthusiastic about tighter immigration than Hispanics, who in many cases have arrived in this country more recently. The Miami-Fort Lauderdale area, which has the densest concentration of Hispanic residents, was the least enthusiastic area of the state. Still, nearly 73 percent of voters there approved of tougher immigration rules.

    The numbers drop significantly when specific restrictions are proposed, but the poll highlights significant suspicion of people with Middle East backgrounds. Forty-three percent of voters said they would like to see Arabs, including U.S. citizens, required to carry special identification and be subjected to special security checks before boarding planes.

    Zephyrhills resident Cam Milliron, a retired aircraft mechanic who was polled, would take it even further. He thinks all people from the Middle East in America should either be indefinitely detained or be required to check in once a week.

    "During World War II, we had no terrorism here and no sabotage. All the (Japanese) were rounded up and put in one place, and that was a good thing," Milliron said.

    But that's precisely the sort of response that worries Mrs. Walsh from Pinellas Park.

    "Look at what we did to the Japanese in World War II," she said, referring to the internment camps of that era. "What did we accomplish with that? To take it out on certain people doesn't accomplish anything. We all in this country came from some place else."

    [Times art]

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