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Poll: Still Sweating The Economy

graphic to illustrate story about tax relief for military personnel and reservists, with $100 bills, the flag, and an IRS-1040 form for the year 2002
AP / CBS
Americans believe the economy is the most important problem facing the country, and few have confidence that the tax cuts proposed by President Bush and enacted by Congress will do much to help. Although approval of the president's handling of the economy remains low, more Americans chastise Congress for not paying enough attention to the economy than chastise Mr. Bush.

The federal government recently raised the national terror alert status to orange — high, but the threat of terrorism is not having much impact on Americans' lives — only one percent say they changed their plans last weekend as a result of the heightened security concerns. In fact, concern and worry about a terrorist attack where people live is at its lowest level since the September 11th attacks.

As it has for the past months, the economy and jobs continue to dominate the public's priorities, outdistancing concerns about terrorism, war or foreign policy issues. In this poll, nearly four in ten mention the economy and jobs as the most important problem facing the country today.

MOST IMPORTANT PROBLEM
Economy/jobs
39%
Terrorism
16%
War in Iraq/foreign policy
8%

THE ECONOMY

Americans have been consistent in the past few months in the way they describe the economy — by a narrow margin, they continue to say it's in poor shape, despite the recent rise in the stock market and the successful completion of the war in Iraq. 48 percent now think the economy is in good shape, and 51 percent think it is bad.

RATING THE ECONOMY
Good
48%
Bad
51%

The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 receive a significant share of the blame for that weak economy. Seven in ten of those who view the economy negatively think it would be in good shape if the terrorist attacks of 9/11 had not happened.

THE TAX CUT STIMULUS?

Only 31 percent think that the tax cuts proposed by President Bush and recently passed by Congress are a solution for the weak economy. Forty-seven percent think the tax cuts will have no effect on the economy, and 13 percent think they will hurt. There was more optimism about the tax cuts' impact just a few weeks ago. Now, fewer see the potential benefits of the tax cuts now than did so earlier in May.

EFFECT OF TAX CUTS ON ECONOMY
NOW
Good for economy
31%
Bad for economy
13%
No effect
47%

5/12
Good for economy
41%
Bad for economy
19%
No effect
33%

The public is also more pessimistic now that it was at the time of the adoption of the 2001 tax cuts. Prior to the passage of the 2001 tax cut, more than a third of Americans consistently reported a belief that those tax cuts would be good for the economy

Many people would prefer another option. More than half think that reducing the federal deficit would offer a better economic stimulus than a tax cut. Less than a third think tax cuts are the better choice for improving the economy.

WHICH WOULD BE BETTER FOR ECONOMY?

Tax cuts
32%
Reducing deficit
55%

Most don't see much personal gain from the tax cuts either. A quarter think it will make a significant difference in the amount of money they have after taxes, but two thirds expect to see no difference in their incomes.


WILL TAX CUTS MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN YOUR INCOME?

Yes
25%
No
66%

Those who have heard or read a lot about the tax cuts — about one quarter of the public — are somewhat more optimistic, though even this group doesn't expect positive personal or general economic impact. Neither do the best-off Americans.

Both the president and Congress are faulted for paying too little attention to the economy, although the president — whose overall approval rating remain high at 64 percent — receives less criticism here. More than six in ten Americans think Mr. Bush should be paying more attention to the economy, but nearly three quarters say the same for Congress.

PAYING ENOUGH ATTENTION TO ECONOMY?
George W. Bush
Yes
36%
No
61%

Congress
Yes
22%
No
72%

In fact, evaluations of the president are mostly unchanged over the past few months. Now, 64 percent approve of the overall job he is doing as president. He receives extremely high marks on his handling of Iraq and terrorism (about eight in ten approve of his handling of terrorism). But his weak spot continues to be handling the economy; less than half approve of the job he is doing in this area.

RATINGS OF GEORGE W. BUSH
Overall
Approve
64%
Disapprove
29%

Handling terrorism
Approve
79%
Disapprove
16%

Handling Iraq
Approve
72%
Disapprove
20%

Handling economy
Approve
44%
Disapprove
49%

TERRORISM

Despite the recent suicide bombings in Saudi Arabia that killed 34 people (including eight Americans) and the government's raising the terrorism alert level to orange/high, personal concerns about terrorism are lower than they have been since the attacks of September 11th. Only 21 percent say they are personally very concerned about a terrorist attack where they live, and 79 percent are not concerned.

That doesn't mean most Americans think the United States is no longer at any risk of a terrorist attack. Seventy-one percent think an attack in the U.S. is likely now; 24 percent think an attack is very likely. But there appears to be much less personal worry.

On the other hand, nearly half the public says the war in Iraq has hindered al Qaeda's ability to launch a new attack. Very few say it has made it easier for al Qaeda to do so.

HOW DID THE WAR IN IRAQ AFFECT AL QAEDA?
Made it harder for Al Qaeda to attack
48%
Made it easier for Al Qaeda to attack
6%
Had no impact on Al Qaeda
42%

More directly, most Americans don't think the war against Iraq has affected the risk of another terrorist attack, although 34 percent think U.S. military actions in Iraq has increased the risk. This figure is much lower, however, than the number before the war that thought the war would increase the risk of terrorism. Those who believe the risk of attack increased as a result of the war with Iraq are more concerned about another attack occurring where they live.

U.S. success in the war against Iraq caused more people to think the U.S. and its allies were winning the war on terrorism, but that perception has fallen a bit a this poll. Fifty-three percent now think the U.S. is winning the war against terrorism, down from 61 percent earlier this month, before the attacks in Saudi Arabia. Before the war against Iraq began, only four in ten Americans thought the U.S. was winning the war against terrorism.

WHO IS WINNING WAR AGAINST TERRORISM?
Now
U.S. and allies
53%
Terrorists
9%
Neither side
35%

5/12
U.S. and allies
61%
Terrorists
9%
Neither side
26%

3/5
U.S. and allies
41%
Terrorists
16%
Neither side
33%

As perceptions of the threat of another attack have declined, so too has American willingness to permit unlimited government monitoring in order to prevent terrorism. Twenty-seven percent are willing to allow government agencies to monitor the telephone calls and emails of ordinary Americans; down from 33 percent last November and 45 percent in September 2001.

However, Americans are much less reluctant to permit such monitoring if there is reason to suspect the individual may be a threat. Sixty-three percent would be willing to allow the government to monitor communications of those whom it is suspicious of; 31 percent would not allow this.

ALLOW GOVERNMENT TO MONITOR COMMUNICATIONS OF...
Ordinary Americans
Willing
27%
Not willing
69%

Those it is suspicious of
Willing
63%
Not willing
31%

Americans still see the federal government's terrorism alerts as useful, although few are altering their own plans as a result of them. Sixty-one percent think the warnings have been useful, but only one percent reports they changed their plans over Memorial Day weekend as a result of the orange alert.



This poll was conducted among a nationwide random sample of 758 adults interviewed by telephone May 27-28, 2003. The error due to sampling could be plus or minus four percentage points for results based on the entire sample.

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