Polls and surveys should not be given as much credence as they sometimes receive, but measuring the pulse of the public can help political and business leaders.

Data are easily skewed by methodology or by design, so therefore we must consider all results carefully. However, a new poll in Georgia has the credibility of the University of Georgia's Carl Vinson Institute of Government, and a fairly small margin of error.

The Peach State Poll of 802 randomly selected Georgians revealed some interesting insight into state residents just days after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

The most important results for the state's elected leaders is that Georgians want more money spent on education and on the environment. Sixty percent said "a lot" should be spent on public education. An amazing 71 percent want more money spent on protecting the environment, compared to only 48 percent in a national poll a few months earlier. At the same time, just 40 percent of Georgians said they wanted to increase spending on public health, compared to 71 percent in a national survey.

Government leaders are probably not surprised to see education at the top of residents' spending lists. Every Georgian is aware of our abysmal performance in academic rankings, when comparing our state to others.

More money seems like the answer to those who want to see an improvement.

The high environmental rank might be the result of concerns of metro Atlanta residents over the impact of phenomenal growth on air and water pollution in that area.

Business leaders will be probably be pleased to hear that Georgians are optimistic about the economy -- 81 percent believed they would be better off or about the same economically in a year's time. However, they did rank the two biggest problems in Georgia as education and the category of jobs, unemployment and the economy.

A positive attitude is important if we are going to see improvements, whether in economic development, education or the environment.

Although the margin of error in the survey is plus or minus 3.5 percent, we must remember that polls and surveys are just that. And people's opinions can quickly change.

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