Poll: Economy Remains Top Priority

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The public sees the economy as the number one priority for the government to address, and it far surpasses terrorism, war and other domestic concerns. Views of the economy continue to be mostly negative, and while only a third think the Bush administration's policies bear a lot of responsibility for the sagging economy, most say the economy is worse than it was two years ago, just after President George W. Bush first took office.

The public thinks the Bush tax cut plan would help the economy generally, but there are mixed views as to whether it would create jobs, and most don't believe it will help their own finances. And the public has other uses for that tax cut money: majorities would prefer to lower the budget deficit instead of lowering taxes, or use the money to provide health insurance to all Americans.

TAX CUTS
The Bush Administration's primary strategy for stimulating the economy and creating jobs has been (and continues to be) tax cuts, and the administration is now proposing a second round of them. Many Americans think that the new round of tax cuts proposed by the administration would help rather than hurt the economy. 41 percent think they would be good for the economy, 19 percent think they would be bad for the economy, and 33 percent think they would have no effect.

PROPOSED TAX CUTS EFFECT ON THE ECONOMY
Good
41%
Bad
19%
No effect
33%

But opinion is divided as to whether the proposed tax cuts will accomplish one of the main goals the Bush administration has set, which is to create jobs. 46 percent think the administration's proposed tax cuts will create new jobs, but 48 percent think they won't.

WILL PROPOSED TAX CUTS CREATE JOBS?
Very/somewhat likely
46%
Not very/not at all likely
48%

Republicans are more likely than Democrats to think the tax cuts will both help the economy and create more jobs.

Finally, few Americans expect these proposed tax cuts to make much difference in their own finances. 58 percent think the cuts will not make a significant difference in the amount of money they have after taxes, while 33 percent think they will affect their finances.

WILL PROPOSED TAX CUTS AFFECT YOUR FINANCES?
Yes
33%
No
58%

Many Americans have not paid much attention to the issue yet. While just over half have heard or read at least something about the tax cuts being proposed, nearly as many have not heard much. Those who are paying attention to the debate so far are more likely to be optimistic about the effects of the proposed tax cuts on job creation.

Looking back, the 2001 tax cuts are not viewed as having been an especially effective economic tool. 63 percent think those tax cuts had no effect on the economy; 19 percent think they were good, and 12 percent think they were bad for the economy.

2001 TAX CUTS EFFECT ON THE ECONOMY
Good
19%
Bad
12%
No effect
63%

Views of the previous tax cuts' effect on the economy have some influence on opinions about future tax cuts. Those who think the 2001 tax cuts helped the economy are more likely to support additional tax cuts, while those who think the 2001 tax cuts were bad for the economy feel additional tax cuts would be either harmful or have no effect.

TAX CUTS VS. DEFICITS, PROGRAMS
Americans are not enthusiastic about tax cuts as a means of triggering economic growth if it means the federal budget is in deficit; polls show that Americans have always been wary of government deficits, and that is true now as well. Almost six in ten think that reducing the government budget deficit - not a tax cut -- is the better way to spur economic growth.

BETTER WAY TO IMPROVE THE ECONOMY
Tax cut
31%
Lower deficit
58%

Americans also would prefer to see potential tax cut money used to finance some sort of health care insurance. 81 percent think it is more important now for the country to make sure all Americans have access to health insurance, and 14 percent think a tax cut is a greater priority.

GREATER PRIORITY FOR COUNTRY:
Tax cut
14%
Providing health insurance
81%

These strong views are no doubt rooted in widespread criticism of the current health care system. 57percent think the U.S. health care system needs fundamental changes, and an additional 31 percent think it needs to be completely overhauled.

THE ECONOMY
As was true in late April, the economy continues to dominate Americans' list of priorities for the country - and by a wide margin. 40 percent name the economy and jobs as the top issue they want addressed. War and terrorism are mentioned by 15 percent. Education is cited by 4 percent, and health care, poverty and family values are each volunteered by 3 percent of the public.

MOST IMPORTANT PROBLEM FACING THE COUNTRY
Economy, jobs
40%
War, terrorism
15%
Education
4%
Family values
3%
Health care
3%
Poverty
3%

Views of the economy have been mostly negative since last July. 55 percent think the economy is fairly or very bad, while fewer - 44 percent -- think it is fairly or very good. These figures are virtually unchanged from late April.

RATING THE ECONOMY
Good
44%
Bad
55%

While the good news is that most Americans don't think it is getting worse, most also don't see it as improving. Nearly half - 49 percent - thinks the economy is staying the same.

ECONOMY IS GETTING:
Better
22%
Worse
28%
Staying the same
49%

Concerns about the economy have become personal for many Americans. 45 percent are very or somewhat concerned that they or someone in their household will lose their job in the next year.

CONCERN ABOUT JOB LOSS
Very concerned
25%
Somewhat concerned
20%
Not concerned
56%

Economic concerns extend to worries about government budgets as well. Most Americans see the budget situation for individual states as a serious problem for the country as a whole; 56 percent think it is a very serious problem, and an additional 35 percent think it is somewhat serious. Fewer than one in ten think it is not a serious problem for the whole country.

BUSH AND THE ECONOMY
Economic problems were at least partially responsible for former President George H.W. Bush's loss of the presidency in 1992; they may prove to be problematic for his son as well. Ratings of George W. Bush's handling of the economy have been and remain mixed (43 percent approve and 48 percent disapprove), and more than half of the public thinks the economy is worse today than it was two years ago, when George W. Bush first took office.

COMPARED TO TWO YEARS AGO, ECONOMY IS:
Better
13%
Worse
58%
Same
28%

Confidence in Bush's ability to make the right decisions about the economy is also mixed. 47 percent have confidence in him, but slightly more (49 percent) are uneasy. This evaluation has changed little in the past six months.

CONFIDENCE IN BUSH'S ECONOMIC DECISIONS
Confident
47%
Uneasy
49%

But Bush may not be held directly responsible for all of the current economic problems; only a third of the public think the policies of his administration have a lot of responsibility for current economic conditions, and 50 percent think the administration has made at least some progress improving the economy. Still, more than four in five think his administration has at least a little responsibility for the state of the economy now.

BUSH'S POLICIES IMPACT ON ECONOMY
A lot
34%
A little
52%
Nothing
10%

LOOKING AHEAD
So far, many voters have not yet made up their mind who to vote for in 2004. 34 percent of registered voters say they would vote for President Bush over an unnamed Democratic challenger, 21 percent say they would vote for a Democratic challenger and 42 percent of voters don't yet know for whom they would vote.

With still almost a year to go before the primaries, the Democratic candidates for President are not yet well-enough known for most respondents to volunteer any of their names. Only 34 percent of people can offer the name of at least one of those challengers - including only 36 percent of Democrats who say they can.

Of those people who can name one, Joe Lieberman - who ran for Vice-President on the Democratic 2000 ticket - is the name most frequently recalled. John Kerry is next.

CAN YOU NAME ANY DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES?
All Americans
No, cannot recall any
66%
Joe Lieberman
9%
John Kerry
7%
Richard Gephardt
6%
Bob Graham
3%
John Edwards
2%
Al Sharpton
2%
Howard Dean
1%
Others
4%

Among Democrats
No, cannot recall any
64%
Joe Lieberman
10%
John Kerry
5%
Richard Gephardt
5%
Bob Graham
2%
John Edwards
4%
Al Sharpton
4%
Howard Dean
2%
Others
5%


EVALUATIONS OF GEORGE W. BUSH
The president's approval ratings - apart from those on the economy - remain high, and are much the same as they were two weeks ago. Now, 67 percent approve of the overall job he is doing as president.

Bush's handling of the economy remains his weak point, with 43 percent approving of the job he is doing steering the economy, and 48 percent disapproving. Iraq is his strong point; 74 percent now approve of the job he did there. However, evaluations of Bush's handling of foreign policy issues other than Iraq are lower, with 54 percent approval.

EVALUATIONS OF GEORGE W. BUSH
Overall
67%
Handling Iraq
74%
Handling economy
43%
Handling foreign policy (not Iraq)
54%

The percentage of Americans who think Bush has strong qualities of leadership - which rose to a high of 83 percent in late September 2001 - is at 70 percent in this poll. Still, that is a larger percentage than said Bush was a strong leader before 9/11.

THINK BUSH IS A STRONG LEADER
Now
70%
9/2001
83%
6/2001
54%

Two-thirds think Bush cares about the needs and problems of people like themselves, although only a third think he cares a lot. Those most likely to think the president is empathetic to their needs include Republicans and those with the highest incomes. Those least likely to think he cares about them are Democrats and African Americans. About half see Bush as a conservative.

Despite some public criticism (especially by Democrats), 59 percent of the public thinks it was appropriate for the president to fly a fighter plane onto the deck of an aircraft carrier in preparation for the announcement of the end of the fighting in Iraq. 35 percent think it was inappropriate for Bush to do so.

EVALUATING THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION
Nearly nine in ten Americans think the Bush Administration has made progress in developing a plan to protect the country from terrorism. But evaluations of the administration's progress on domestic issues are lower, and show little change since earlier this year.

Half think the administration has made some progress improving the economy, and 44 percent think it has taken steps to improve education. But fewer see progress being made in other domestic policy areas, such as Social Security and prescription drugs. And these are the areas where the Democrats are perceived as stronger.

ADMINISTRATION'S PROGRESS
Developing a plan to protect the country from terrorism
A lot/Some
86%
Not much/None
11%

Improving the nation's economy
A lot/Some
50%
Not much/None
48%

Improving public schools
A lot/Some
44%
Not much/None
50%

Creating new jobs
A lot/Some
36%
Not much/None
60%

Ensuring SS and Medicare are there for the future
A lot/Some
35%
Not much/None
53%

Reducing the cost of prescription drugs
A lot/Some
19%
Not much/None
59%


THE ADMINISTRATION AND BUSINESS
Since taking office, various members of the Bush administration have been accused of catering to the interests of big business. That view continues to hold true; 57 percent of the public thinks that big business has too much influence on the administration. Opinion has changed little in the past year.

INFLUENCE OF BIG BUSINESS ON THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION
Too much
57%
Too little
7%
Right amount
22%

A recent example of perceptions about the administration's ties to big business is the awarding of contracts in Iraq. 49 percent of the public thinks the administration awarded contracts for rebuilding Iraq to companies with strong ties to the Republican party, while 31 percent think they awarded those contracts to the best-qualified companies.

The administration also continues to be plagued by views that it is more interested in the needs of the wealthiest Americans. In this poll, 54 percent of Americans continue to think the policies of the Bush administration favor the rich; less than a quarter of the public believes they treat all groups the same.

However, fewer Americans think the religious right has too much influence on the Administration. Just 21 percent say they have too much influence.

VIEWS OF THE PARTIES
Looking ahead to the 2004 election, this poll shows big differences in Americans' views of the parties.

A majority of Americans - 53 percent - view the Republican party favorably, while the Democrats are rated favorably by 46 percent. The Republican rating is largely unchanged since the 2002 mid-term elections; President Bush's party has apparently not received the ratings boost from the war that he did. The Democrats' ratings are down from January, back to their levels of last fall.

FAVORABLE VIEWS OF THE PARTIES
Republican party
Now
53%
1/03
50%
10/02
54%

Democratic party
Now
46%
1/03
52%
10/02
46%


A majority also believes that the Republican party has a clear plan for the country - 53 percent say they do - while only 40 percent think the Democrats have a clear plan for the nation. This reflects a gain for both: just after the mid-term elections, 46 percent thought the Republicans had a plan and only 31 percent thought the Democrats did.

DO THE PARTIES HAVE A CLEAR PLAN FOR THE COUNTRY?
Think Republicans have a clear plan
Now
53%
11/02
46%

Think Democrats have a clear plan
Now
40%
11/02
31%


The public sees large differences between the parties' abilities to deal with specific issues, with Republicans having the advantage on military and foreign policy matters, and Democrats just as large an advantage on many domestic programs.

Republicans are widely seen to be better at dealing with terrorism: 58 percent say they are, while just 18 percent say the Democrats are better at dealing with terrorism. By a wide 66 percent to 19 percent margin, Americans say the Republican party is best able to keep military defenses strong.

Democrats hold an edge on issues of the environment, prescription drugs, jobs, and health care. 54 percent say the Democrats are best able to create jobs, compared to just 32 percent who say the Republicans are best. 51 percent say the Democrats are better able to improve the health care system, while just 29 percent say the Republicans are better on this issue. The Democrats have a slight advantage on making sure taxes are fair.

The parties are even, however, on their ability to ensure a strong economy and improve education.

WHICH PARTY IS BEST AT...?

Republican advantage:
Making sure the military is strong
Reps
66%
Dems
19%

Making the right decisions on terrorism
Reps
58%
Dems
18%

Democratic advantage:
Protecting the environment
Reps
23%
Dems
60%

Making prescriptions drugs affordable
Reps
26%
Dems
57%

Creating new jobs
Reps
32%
Dems
54%

Improving the health care system
Reps
29%
Dems
51%

Making sure the tax system is fair
Reps
36%
Dems
46%

Tie:
Ensuring a strong economy
Reps
42%
Dems
41%

Improving education
Reps
38%
Dems
44%


CONGRESS
Congress gets much lower job approval ratings than it did last fall before the mid-term elections. Today, just 35 percent of Americans approve of how Congress is doing its job and 48 percent disapprove. In October, 45 percent approved. The current rating is low even for Congress. Since late 1998, only in the two months following the September 11th, 2001 attacks have Congress' approval ratings risen higher than 50 percent. The last time Congress' rating was lower than today's was December of 1997.

Though neither gives the legislature high marks, Democrats are less likely than Republicans to approve of how Congress is doing its job. Just 34 percent of Democrats approve of the job it is doing, while 42 percent of Republicans do.

CONGRESS' JOB APPROVAL
Approve
Now
35%
10/02
45%
10/01
67%
5/01
45%

Disapprove
Now
48%
10/02
40%
10/01
24%
5/01
36%




This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 910 adults, interviewed by telephone May 9-12, 2003. The error due to sampling could be plus or minus three percentage points for results based on the entire sample.

For detailed information on how CBS News conducts public opinion surveys, click here.

  • Bootie Cosgrove-Mather

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