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Voters overwhelmingly think that Erie County is headed down the wrong track, according to the latest poll conducted for The Buffalo News.

Further, they view the local economy as the No. 1 issue in the forthcoming contest between County Executive Gorski and Republican challenger Joel A. Giambra. And that spells more trouble for the Democratic incumbent.

"That right track/wrong track question is a very important voting barometer," said pollster John Zogby of Zogby International. "In addition to three out of five Republicans and independents saying we're on the wrong track, you have a plurality of Democrats saying the same thing."

The poll, which surveyed 720 likely voters Wednesday and Thursday, has a margin for error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points. It found that a majority -- 53.2 percent -- think that the county is headed in the wrong direction, with 29.6 thinking that it is headed in the right direction and 17.3 percent unsure.

When asked to rank the most pressing issues in Erie County, respondents listed:

Improving the local economy -- 31.8 percent.

Reducing taxes -- 22.8 percent.

Improving education -- 16.3 percent.

Sharing services among local governments -- 3.2 percent.

Other or not sure -- 25.9 percent.

It's not surprising that Buffalo-area voters are most concerned about the economy, said Zogby, a Utica-based pollster with a national clientele. His surveys in every upstate area produce similar results, he said.

"It's a new phenomenon, but it stands to reason," he said. "Upstate, we find people want to get the economy going again; downstate, where things are better, they're more con
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Poll: Sharing of services shown to have appeal
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cerned about education. And, of course, taxes are always up there, too."

Gorski, who trails Giambra by 21 points in The News poll, said he understands why the state of the economy should weigh so heavily on his constituents: Economic stagnation in relation to the rest of the nation is a problem throughout upstate, and he is trying to deal with it, Gorski said.

"I happen to be here at this point in time, but I recognize the problems and am putting together a plan to not only correct it, but enhance it," he said.

The county executive listed a number of steps he has initiated to spur job growth, noting that he has even journeyed to foreign countries in efforts to lure investment here.

"I think we've developed a sense of stability, a sense of direction and a plan for the future," he said. "It's a question now of me presenting that over the next six weeks."

Giambra said he has no doubt that the economy ranks so high.

"I believe the people in Erie County have put aside their partisan politics and are very much aware that we are experiencing the greatest fiscal and economic crisis in our history," Giambra said. "I feel comfortable that the message we have delivered will be very favorably accepted by those who know most how bad the situation is here."

He also expressed the hope that Gorski will discuss the issues with him in the next six weeks.

Giambra has based much of his campaign on the idea of regional cooperation among local governments, spawning Gorski ads that contend that Giambra wants to merge city and county government. While Giambra said he no longer favors merger but sharing of services, Gorski has aggressively attacked him for advocating that idea at one time.

While sharing government services ranked low on the list of issues facing the county in The News poll, Erie County voters embrace it when asked about its merits in a separate question. The poll showed that 57.8 percent favor sharing services among different levels of government, while 21 percent oppose it and 21.2 percent are not sure.

Zogby said he is not surprised that most people like the idea. In fact, he said, the concept is becoming a "motherhood and apple pie issue" and labeled Gorski's reaction to Giambra's program "scare tactics."

"The way Joel Giambra is proposing shared services scores big with upstate voters," Zogby said. "They get scared when you get more radical than that, but what's radical about it?

"Sure, you'll get opposition from the entrenched politicians and vendors. But their vote counts just as much as the average citizen's."

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