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Poll: Nature, schools escape anti-government mood

Six months after a watershed election shifted power in Washington, Floridians feel a growing loss of control _ of their nation's borders, of their economic future and of their government, a new poll shows.

They strongly favor bringing government closer to home and spending their tax dollars on local health care, the environment and especially schools, according to the poll by researchers at Florida International University.

Some of the Floridians surveyed have taken the money crunch personally.

Kindergarten teacher Kerry Rothman of West Palm Beach spends more than $1,000 of her own money each year to provide essential reading materials and games for her disadvantaged pupils.

Increased spending on schools, a position strongly supported in the poll, is important because "government should concentrate more on prevention than on punishment," she said.

A majority of Floridians in the FIU survey favored shrinking government _ both in size and in restrictions on abortion.

More than 63 percent favored shifting power back to the states, the dominant theme for the Republican-controlled Congress.

Almost half of those surveyed in FIU's Florida Poll were pessimistic about the future of the nation's economy and thought the next generation will fare worse.

"It doesn't look very good," said 33-year-old construction worker Jim Whitstone of St. Petersburg. "I've got two boys, and I'm kind of worried for them. Together, my wife and I make about $45,000, and that won't get them through college. The middle class just can't put any money away."

Like many in Florida, Whitstone feels it's time to "shut the door" on illegal immigration.

Floridians' worries about the availability of jobs, government spending and population growth could make immigration a key political issue next year.

Hugh Gladwin, the director of FIU's Institute for Public Opinion Research, which conducted the poll, said sentiment against immigrants is still strong in Florida: Almost half of those surveyed said immigration is bad for the state.

Supporters of a Proposition 187-type restriction on immigrant benefits could benefit from Floridians' anxiety.

One notable exception to the anti-government mood dealt with protecting the environment, where "you don't see the push to roll back regulations" among those surveyed, Gladwin said. More than 63 percent thought environmental regulations were not too strict.

"The biggest thing I saw was people saying they were still pretty dissatisfied," Gladwin said. "They still are willing to support the Republicans. The Contract with America issues had solid majorities."

The telephone poll of 834 Florida residents in early June was conducted by the institute for FIU, a state university in Miami. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.