In monthly surveys tracking what is the most important issue facing the next president, the economy has emerged as the dominant issue across the Upper Midwest.

SurveyUSA asked 600 likely voters in Iowa, Minnesota, and Wisconsin closed-ended questions with eight choices as to what was the most important concern facing the next president: the economy, education, the environment, health care, immigration, Iraq, Social Security, and terrorism.

The economy ranks far and away as the top issue—44 percent in Minnesota, 38 percent in Iowa, and 37 percent in Wisconsin in polling conducted in mid-March 2008. But a lot has changed in the past few months since SurveyUSA began tracking this question in December 2007.

Back then, in Iowa, Iraq was the most pressing concern (19 percent) perhaps fueled by the Democratic debates and campaigning held in that state which focused so heavily on the war. The economy and health care were tied with 17 percent, followed by immigration at 16 percent. In January, the number of likely Iowa voters mentioning the economy rose to 23 percent, followed by 28 percent in February and 38 percent in mid-March. The war in Iraq was cited by only 15 percent of Iowans in March, followed by 11 percent for health care, 10 percent for terrorism, and 9 percent for immigration.

In Wisconsin, the economy was tied with health care last December as the most important problem for the next president (23 percent each), with the war in Iraq a distant third at 13 percent. Economic concerns bumped up to 39 percent in January and have remained in the mid- to high- 30s in February (34 percent) and March (37 percent). The war in Iraq ranked only as the 5th most important issue in March (8 percent), also behind health care (16 percent), terrorism (10 percent), and immigration (10 percent).

In Minnesota, the economy has been the issue throughout the past four months. Back in December, 27 percent cited the economy as the next president’s most important issue, with health care (16 percent) and Iraq (16 percent) each 11 points behind. In January, the economy was mentioned by 38 percent of Minnesotans, rising to 44 percent in March. Iraq (14 percent) and health care (13 percent) remain comparatively distant concerns in the Gopher State.

The challenge for John McCain and whoever emerges as the Democratic nominee to make inroads in the Upper Midwest will be to transform their presidential campaigns that have greatly focused on foreign policy and the war in Iraq to domestic issues like the economy. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have spent much of the time focusing on health care in their domestic policy speeches, but without an economic agenda that resonates with Upper Midwesterners, they could be quite vulnerable in these battleground states.