Poll: Fix The Economy First

GENERIC congress democrat republican money economy government loans CBS/AP

With the new Congress ready to go to work, most Americans think its first task should be to help the ailing economy and create jobs - not necessarily to pass a tax cut. And even while most Americans believe that war in Iraq is inevitable, just about as many would like to continue attempts at a diplomatic solution there, something many don't think this Administration is working hard enough to secure.

SOLUTIONS FOR A TROUBLED ECONOMY

Opinions about the state of the U.S. economy continue to decline. Just 41% think the U.S. economy is in good shape, while 57%, more than at any time since 1993, the first year of the Clinton Administration, think it is in bad shape. When George W. Bush took office in January 2001, more than twice as many as now believed the economy was in good shape.

Most Americans also think the economy is not improving. Just 15% think the economy is improving, while 36% say it is getting worse. 48% think it is staying the same.

RATING THE ECONOMY

Good:

Now:
41%
11/02:
48%
11/01:
84%

Bad:

Now:
57%
11/02:
50%
11/01:
15%

So when asked what the first priority of Congress should be in 2003, the economy and jobs are the public's most volunteered answers. They are cited by 26%, almost as many as name war (9%), the Iraq threat (5%), terrorism (6%) and homeland security (10%) combined.

Asked specifically to choose among the economy, the situation with Iraq, or the war on terror, 46% want Congress to concentrate first on the economy, nearly as many as the combined number citing the Iraq situation and the war on terror.

CONGRESS' FIRST PRIORITY: WAR ON TERROR, IRAQ OR ECONOMY?

Economy:
46%
Iraq situation:
25%
War on terror:
25%

Moreover, while most believe that this Republican-controlled legislature is poised to accomplish more than most Congresses, Americans are skeptical about whether they will personally feel many benefits: they are doubtful that their taxes will decrease, that the economy and health care will improve, or that the country will be more secure from terrorist attack with the GOP at the helm.

EXPECTATIONS FOR REPUBLICAN CONTROL OF CONGRESS

Congress will accomplish more than usual:
48%
Economy will get better:
32%
Taxes will go down:
14%
Health care will improve:
25%
Country will be more secure from terrorism:
26%

Many Americans expect things to remain pretty much the same on all these items (although 38% actually expect their taxes to go up with Republicans in control). There are expected partisan differences - a majority of Republicans expect an improved economy from this Congress, for example, but even Republicans are skeptical about tax cutting - just 22% of them expect their taxes to go down.

For Americans, taxes are a lower priority than other domestic issues. Asked to choose among three specific domestic issues that the new Congress could take up - helping the unemployed, reforming health care or cutting taxes - Americans overwhelmingly say that of these, helping the unemployed should be lawmakers' first order of business.

CONGRESS' FIRST DOMESTIC PRIORITY SHOULD BE:

Helping unemployed & creating jobs:
54%
Reforming health care:
28%
Passing a tax cut:
14%

The Administration continues to face the public perception that its policies - and perhaps especially its economic and tax policies -- favor the rich, not the middle class or all groups equally. In fact, those who earn under $30,000 are more likely to foresee an increase in their taxes than those who earn over $30,000. Overall, nearly six in ten see this Administration as favoring the rich.

DO BUSH ADMINISTRATION POLICIES FAVOR...?

The rich:
59%
The middle class:
11%
The poor:
2%
Treat all the same:
23%

Yet despite their skepticism about the agenda of the new Congress, a majority of Americans view the Republicans favorably. 54% have a favorable view of the Republican Party, a figure much like that last November, after the election but before the controversy surrounding Republican Senator Trent Lott. Meanwhile, the Democrats appear to be on the rebound a bit from their post-election favorable rating of 45%. Now, a majority views them favorably once again.

VIEWS OF THE PARTIES

Now

Favorable view of Republicans:
54%
Favorable view of Democrats:
51%

11/02

Favorable view of Republicans:
51%
Favorable view of Democrats:
45%

IRAQ
Just under two-thirds of Americans (64%) continue to support the United States taking military action to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq, a figure that has remained consistent for the past six months. However, that is not the course of action most Americans would prefer the U.S. take now. By more than two to one, they would rather the U.S. try to find a diplomatic solution instead of taking military action.

WHAT SHOULD U.S. DO NOW ABOUT IRAQ?

Take military action:
29%
Find diplomatic solution:
63%

Women and Democrats are most in favor of using diplomacy instead of force in Iraq, although majorities of men and Republicans also support that option over a military response.

But nearly three quarters of the public are resigned to a future war with Iraq. 74% expect the U.S. to end up fighting in Iraq, while 20% think the situation will be resolved without fighting. Expectations for war have grown slightly since late last fall.

EXPECT U.S. WILL FIGHT AGAINST IRAQ

Now

Yes:
74%
No:
20%

11/02

Yes:
69%
No:
24%

There is widespread skepticism that Hussein has allowed U.N. weapons inspectors full access to look for weapons of mass destruction; nearly seven in ten say he has not.

DO U.N. INSPECTORS HAVE FULL ACCESS?

Yes:
21%
No:
68

Most Americans think Iraq has something to hide; 89% believe Iraq does have weapons of mass destruction that weapons inspectors have not yet found.

OTHER INTERNATIONAL CHALLENGES
North Korea's announcement roughly two weeks ago that it intends to resume production of nuclear weapons presents another potential threat to global stability. In this instance, Americans are even more firmly convinced of the need for a diplomatic solution. 89% think the U.S. should pursue diplomatic options, while less than one in ten prefers a military response.

WHAT SHOULD U.S. DO NOW ABOUT NORTH KOREA?

Take military action:
6%
Find diplomatic solution:
89

And most see North Korea as less of a threat to peace and stability than Iraq: when asked to choose between the two, 58% say Iraq is a bigger threat, and 24% choose North Korea. However, terrorists such as Al Qaeda surpass both countries; when asked to choose among all three, 59% name terrorists as the greater threat to peace and stability, 15% name Iraq, and 12% choose North Korea.

WHICH IS THE GREATER THREAT?

Iraq or No. Korea?

Iraq:
58%
North Korea:
24%

Iraq, No. Korea or Al Qaeda?

Iraq:
15%
No. Korea:
12%
Al Qaeda:
59%

Many view the war against Al Qaeda and terrorism as a stalemate. 44% think neither side is winning that war; 32% think the U.S. is winning, and 17% think the terrorists are winning.

WHO IS WINNING THE WAR AGAINST TERRORISM?

U.S. and Allies:
32%
Terrorists:
17%
Neither side:
44%

PRESIDENT BUSH
President Bush continues to enjoy high overall and foreign policy job approval ratings. While his handling of foreign policy is rated lower than his overall approval, a majority views it favorably. However, less than half approve of his handling of the economy.

BUSH JOB APPROVAL RATINGS:

Overall:

Now:
64%
11/02:
65%
9/02:
63%

Handling Of Economy:

Now:
42%
11/02:
45%
9/02:
47%

Handling Of Foreign Policy:

Now:
56%
11/02:
54%
9/02:
54%

The Bush Administration comes in for some criticism from the public on its reaction to some international problems. 50% think the Administration is too quick to get American military forces involved; 41% think it tries hard enough to reach diplomatic solutions.

BUSH ADMINISTRATION'S REACTION TO INTERNATIONAL PROBLEMS

Tries to reach diplomatic solutions:
41%
Too quick to involve military:
50%

Democrats and women are especially critical of what they see as the Administration's rush to a military response.



This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 902 adults, interviewed by telephone January 4-6, 2003. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus three percentage points. Sampling error for subgroups may be higher.

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

  • Bootie Cosgrove-Mather

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