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A suffocating sense of unease: Mass. residents are stressed by inflation, Supreme Court decisions, new poll finds

Inflation and recent Supreme Court decisions have cast a cloud over many Massachusetts residents.Suzanne Krieter/Globe staff

Sharply rising prices and seismic Supreme Court decisions have cast a cloud over the lives of Massachusetts residents even as COVID-19 has begun to fade into the background for many of them, according to a new Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll.

Eight of 10 residents surveyed say they have been pinched in some way by ballooning inflation, and more than half say they’re concerned about their own financial situation. This has made money or finances their most common source of stress, the poll found, particularly among Black residents and younger ones — adding a suffocating sense of unease to people’s lives at a time already full of it.

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“Even the last recession we had a while back, I don’t remember feeling the pinch the way we are now,” said Ed Batchelder, a 52-year-old Bridgewater resident and poll respondent. Batchelder works for an IT software company, and his wife receives disability payments, but their income can only stretch so far, he said.

Add in medical bills, the Democrat said, “and it gets really tough.”

For some, that economic anxiety has been compounded by the Supreme Court and its series of decisions last month, including overturning the constitutional right to an abortion. More people said the court’s actions affected them the most emotionally, more than inflation or other events, such as the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Massachusetts residents also indicate that, despite the lingering threat of variants, COVID-19 has waned as an overriding concern. Nearly 80 percent say they think about the virus only from time-to-time or not at all when making plans this summer.

In that void, financial concerns appear to be overshadowing most everything. Ballooning inflation is forcing people to reconsider vacation or summer plans, forgoing small luxuries that, until recently, the virus may have curtailed. And regardless if the data support it yet, 61 percent of residents said they believe the economy is in a recession or depression, a 10-point jump from a Suffolk/Globe poll just three months ago.

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“That’s a big number,” said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center. “The decibel level of a faltering economy is drowning out anything that people are talking about and hearing right now. Part of it is echoing what they hear. But part of it is they’re adjusting their spending, and they’re saying, especially in the low-income categories, ‘I’m not living comfortably.’ ”

Amid that economic apprehension, Attorney General Maura Healey, the Democrats’ presumed nominee, still looks to be on a glide path to being governor. She holds a more than 30-point lead over each of her potential Republican opponents, echoing margins she enjoyed in the spring.

Healey would lead Geoff Diehl, a former state lawmaker from Whitman, 54 percent to 23 percent, and Chris Doughty, a Wrentham businessman, 54 percent to 22 percent among roughly 500 likely voters in a November matchup, according to this month’s survey.

The poll, conducted over four days last week, carried a margin of error of plus-or-minus 4 percentage points among all residents and 4.4 percentage points among likely voters. It did not survey the GOP primary matchup, and since the last Suffolk/Globe poll in the spring, Healey’s path has only become easier since her last primary opponent, state Senator Sonia Chang-Díaz, ended her campaign in June.

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The 600 Massachusetts residents surveyed continued to give Governor Charlie Baker high marks, with 65 percent approving of the job he’s done over the last 7½ years, compared to one-fifth who disapproved.

Keeping with trends throughout his tenure, the second-term Republican, who is not seeking reelection, was viewed more favorably by Democrats and unenrolled voters — with 71 percent and 66 percent approving of his work, respectively — than by members of his own party. About 52 percent of Republicans said they approved of the way Baker has handled his job.

“I didn’t think Charlie was a bad governor,” said Jeff Light, a 52-year-old Dedham resident. A Democrat, Light said he’s also not opposed to voting for a Republican, ”but I certainly can’t vote for the really right-wing folks who are gallivanting around today.”

But the governor’s office has somewhat faded from day-to-day prominence, crowded out by the pressures of inflation, or concerns that a conservative-led Supreme Court that overturned the landmark Roe v. Wade decision could target other constitutional rights.

The governor’s race is “definitely on my mind, but it doesn’t feel like a priority at this point,” said Diane Sullivan, a 48-year-old Medford resident and cofounder of a nonprofit focused on poverty.

The impact of rising prices, particularly food, is front and center and is helping feed into what she called a “perfect storm” of need.

“Going to the grocery store, it’s scary these days,” Sullivan said.

Seventy-nine percent of those surveyed said they have experienced some level of hardship because of price increases, though who feels it most harshly can vary widely by group.

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About 30 percent of Hispanic residents and 29 percent of Black residents said they felt “a lot” of hardship, far outpacing their white counterparts (19 percent).

Among those making less than $50,000 a year, 40 percent said they feel they have enough money to live comfortably — a far cry from the 65 percent of residents overall who say they do.

Lila Hosbjor, 58, of Holliston said rising prices means she has less food in the fridge and no vacation plans for the summer.

“No road trip. No trip to the beach because parking is so expensive,” she said. “I love summer, but it kind of limits what you do. That’s kind of the price you pay.”

Anxiety, however, extends beyond people’s wallets. Asked which recent development affected them the most emotionally among four options, 42 percent said the Supreme Court decisions on abortion rights, gun control, and the environment , while 33 percent said inflation, 11 percent said the war in Ukraine, and 6 percent said COVID.

About 50 percent of women surveyed pointed to the court rulings, with younger residents, white residents, and Democrats also helping drive the results.

“That’s something I thought I would never see change, ever, in my lifetime,” Jill Newberg, a 44-year-old marketing director and Medfield resident, said of Roe v. Wade being overturned. “It’s just ridiculous and heartbreaking. I’m a mother of two daughters. It’s really concerning to think they may not have the same choices that I was able to have.”

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The decision has also heightened fears of other ground-shaking rulings. More than 66 percent of residents surveyed said they are also concerned the Supreme Court will curtail other constitutional rights, such as gay marriage.

“At this point, I feel like there’s nothing that’s not on the table,” said Ellen Massee, 57. “I worry about the Constitution. I worry that nothing is sacred anymore.”


Matt Stout can be reached at matt.stout@globe.com. Follow him @mattpstout.