updated 6/20/2008 5:37:52 AM ET 2008-06-20T09:37:52

The number of Americans who believe the country is moving in the wrong direction has risen sharply, to nearly eight in ten, amid soaring food and gas prices, falling home values and unending war. Just 17 percent say the country is going in the right direction, according to an AP-Ipsos poll.

The right-direction number is the lowest ever recorded by the survey, which began in 2003. When other surveys are taken into account, the general level of pessimism is the worst in almost 30 years.

And it is getting worse. The 17 percent positive reading was down from 24 percent just since April.

Those who said the country was on the wrong track totaled 76 percent of the people contacted in the survey, which was taken from June 12-16. That's up from 71 percent in April and 66 percent near the end of 2007.

Six in ten of those who chose wrong track blamed the struggling economy, with gasoline prices hovering above $4 a gallon ($1.05 a liter) a primary reason. "Poor leadership" accounted for 23 percent, while 20 percent said the war in Iraq.

Robert Ovitt, 57, who describes himself as a political independent, was among those who selected "wrong track."

"It scares me, the way things are going now," said Ovitt, who is facing retirement in the next five years from his job as a correctional officer.

"Ten years ago, we had a Democratic president, Clinton," and the worst that happened was his affairs, Ovitt said. Back then, gas prices, interest rates, unemployment and the federal budget deficit were low, he said. "Now that we have a Republican, everything is sky high. ... I mean I don't know how we're going to survive."

Bush, Congress approval ratings low
President Bush's approval rating was 29 percent in the poll, near his all-time low of 28 percent in April, while 67 percent said they disapproved of the way he was handling his job.

Congress, under Democratic control since January 2007, drew even lower approval ratings: 23 percent approved, 72 percent disapproved, roughly the same levels as in the April survey.

Asked about their party affiliation, 37 percent identified themselves as Democrats, 23 percent said they were Republicans and 23 percent said independents. That breakdown underscores the importance of independents in the presidential contest as both Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama court their support.

Software consultant April Dolan, 40, is a Republican who believes the country is heading in the right direction. "I'm optimistic in general, and I do believe that the economic situation will probably get better in the next 12 to 18 months. I believe it's going to turn around, it's just going to take some time," she said. "Not that everything I think is great. I mean, the oil prices are a nightmare."

She said she has two sons, one already in college and the other due to enter next year. She said she supports Bush and "I don't blame him for the state of the economy."

Many others appear to, however.

Asked about Bush's handling of the economy, 72 percent said they disapproved, 48 percent strongly so; 24 percent said they approved, 7 percent strongly.

Consumer confidence lowest since 1980
The survey reinforces the notion that consumers are particularly gloomy — possibly more than economic statistics justify. Despite record energy costs, slumping stock prices and the housing and credit crunch, reports show the economy to be still growing, if slowly. Inflation and interest rates remain at relatively tame levels. And the unemployment rate is lower than it was during the past two recessions, in 1990 and 2001.

Still, "For the average American, everything's going wrong. I think there's a lot of reasons for households to be pessimistic. I think things have gotten tougher for most," said Mark Zandi, chief economist of Moody's Economy.com.

The survey results also parallel the drop in a consumer confidence index to the lowest level since June 1980, when Jimmy Carter was in the White House and consumers were being battered by a recession and soaring gasoline prices. 0 People in the AP-Ipsos survey were asked: "Generally speaking, would you say things in this country are heading in the right direction, or are they off on the wrong track?" The survey entailed interviews with 1,000 adults, 785 of them registered voters. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points for all respondents, 3.5 percent for registered voters.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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