Economic worries have decreased over the last six months as the American public has shifted its concern more to the war in Iraq and problems faced by political leaders, AP-Ipsos polling found.
The economy has been showing signs of strength in recent months. But the violence in Iraq has continued, before and after the latest round of elections in mid-December. And high-profile politicians in this country have been ensnared by scandal.
When people were asked in an open-ended question to name the nation’s top problem, 25 percent named war, close to the level in October, but up from 19 percent in July. Within the war responses, 15 percentage points were specifically tied to Iraq, and 9 percentage points to wars and unrest worldwide.
The number of people who named political leaders as the most important problem has almost tripled, from 5 percent in July to 14 percent as the new year starts.
“The war is a problem that fouls up what we need to do in the world,” said Peter Palys, a lawyer from Wheaton, Ill. “My feelings about Iraq have solidified over the last six months. ... We can’t stay; we can’t leave, and we can’t win. Our success or failure is not in our hands.”
American troops are still dying at a rate of about two per day and the insurgency has shown no clear signs of weakening in recent months. But U.S. officials are heartened by progress they see in training Iraqi security forces — a key step toward disengaging U.S. forces.
While violence continues in Iraq, scandals involving prominent politicians in this country have been growing.
Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay is facing trial on felony charges in a Texas campaign finance investigation. He’s one of several lawmakers who were close to lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Abramoff lavished favors on lawmakers and is now cooperating with prosecutors after pleading guilty to corruption charges.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, sometimes mentioned as a possible 2008 presidential candidate, is under investigation by federal prosecutors in New York and by the Securities and Exchange Commission because of his handling of stock sales. U.S. Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, R-Calif., pleaded guilty to accepting $2.4 million in bribes.
“It’s a steady drumbeat,” said Walter Mebane, a professor of government at Cornell University. “People who aren’t political junkies may not follow the names, but they’re always hearing something about corrupt politicians in Washington.”
Neal Bowser, a carpet technician from Westchester, Pa., said the bribery scandals are his top concern now.
“Money seems to be corrupting the whole bottom line,” he said. “Our political leaders are not working for the people when they’re working for their own pockets.”
Fewer financial concerns
Public concern about the economy, while still relatively high, has been declining. About one in five, 21 percent, named economic issues as the top problem, down from 28 percent in July, according to the poll of 1,001 adults taken Jan. 3-5. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.
The economy has been bolstered by a strong housing sector, a rising stock market and relative strength in jobs. The Dow Jones Industrial Average crept above 11,000 last week before slipping a bit at week’s end.
Some still worry about the economy, however.
“I think the economy is still struggling now, and I won’t be surprised if it gets worse,” said Wes Byers, an engineer from Wellington, Colo. “I don’t think jobs are there like they used to be, especially better-paying jobs. There’s getting to be a bigger and bigger gap between low-income and high-income people.”