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Economy ties war as top issue, poll shows

The faltering economy has caught the Iraq war as people's top worry, a national poll suggests, with the rapid turnabout already showing up on the presidential campaign trail and in maneuvering between President Bush and Congress.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The faltering economy has caught the Iraq war as people's top worry, a national poll suggests, with the rapid turnabout already showing up on the presidential campaign trail and in maneuvering between President Bush and Congress.

Twenty percent named the economy as the foremost problem in an Associated Press-Ipsos poll released Friday, virtually tying the 21 percent who cited the war. In October, the last time the survey posed the open-ended question about the country's top issue, the war came out on top by a 2-1 majority.

About equal proportions of Republicans, Democrats and independents in the new poll said the economy was their major worry, suggesting the issue looms as a potent one in both parties' presidential contests. It was also cited evenly across all levels of income, underscoring the variety of economic problems the country faces.

Amid increasing trade, job, housing, stock market and gasoline price woes, candidates from each party have started talking about how they would bolster the economy. The issue looms as the dominant one in the next presidential contest: Tuesday's Republican primary in Michigan, which had a 7.4 percent unemployment rate in November that is the nation's worst.

'Concern about Iraq is diminishing'
Even as signs of economic weakness in this country have grown in recent months, U.S. and Iraqi casualties in Iraq have been dropping since the summer. Though most in the U.S. remain against the war, growing numbers say they think President Bush's troop increase last year has been working, and politicians say the issue is raised with decreasing frequency by constituents.

"The lines are crossing now," said Whit Ayres, a Republican pollster not working for a presidential candidate. "As Iraq becomes more stable and less violent, concern about Iraq is diminishing. It will still be an important issue, but the economy is filling the vacuum."

Economic concerns were voiced about evenly in most parts of the country in the AP-Ipsos survey. It was particularly high in the Rust Belt region of Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin, states that are expected to be pivotal in the November election. About one in three there named the economy.

The poll offered another example of economic anxiety as an index measuring consumer confidence fell to its all-time low in the six years Ipsos has been measuring it. The RBC Cash Index dropped to 56.3 in early January, down from 65.9 in December.

The war was the top problem mentioned by three in 10 Democrats, about twice the number of Republicans who listed it. About one in five independents also put it as the top concern.

Health care was another important issue for Democrats, while Republicans also named morality, immigration and terrorism.

Issues key to voters
In exit polls of voters in last Tuesday's New Hampshire presidential primaries, people in both parties named the economy as their top concern, including 38 percent of Democrats and 31 percent of Republicans. Of those citing the economy, the most votes went to Hillary Rodham Clinton for Democrats and John McCain among Republicans — and each won their party's contest.

In the Jan. 3 Iowa presidential caucuses, the economy was tied with Iraq for most important issue among Democrats. Illegal immigration was the most mentioned by Republicans, followed by the economy. The winners in that state — Republican Mike Huckabee and Democrat Barack Obama — also got the most support among those chiefly worried about the economy.

On Capitol Hill, Democratic leaders are considering crafting legislation for stimulating the economy that might include tax rebates, longer unemployment benefits and more food stamps. Bush has said he is watching to see if federal steps will be needed, which officials have said might include tax rebates for individuals and tax breaks for business investment.

On Friday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., wrote Bush saying they should try to agree quickly on a package. Still, a clash could well occur because there is a history of Democrats seeking more spending and narrower tax cuts than Republicans want.

The issues question in the AP-Ipsos poll was asked of 535 people in telephone interviews conducted from Jan. 7-9. Their responses had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.