- The Washington Times - Friday, May 6, 2005

Americans remain cranky about economic issues such as jobs and gasoline prices, but have become more optimistic about their own personal futures, political pollsters said this week.

‘There is not any one thing that may be driving down the American spirit, but there are a number of things that have not gone well. All those things add up to a mild case of crankiness,’ said Andrew Kohut, polling director of the Pew Research Center.

‘I don’t think things are surging or plummeting? in either direction, Mr. Kohut added. Still, he said, ‘the public is displeased with the way things are going in the country right now.’

A nationwide survey of registered voters for the Hotline political newsletter, released Thursday, reported that 56 percent think the country is on the “wrong track,” compared with 30 percent who say “right track,” a five-percentage-point decline since February.

But despite growing concern about the economy, independent pollster John Zogby said, people are generally optimistic about the future.

“I am surprised when they tell us they are optimistic about their own future. The numbers are higher than they were a couple of years ago,” Mr. Zogby said.

President Bush’s increased negative rankings on the economy, mounting gas prices, Iraq and the failure to achieve any breakthrough on Social Security show that “we are still split apart, we are ideologically and culturally two nations and that things haven’t changed since the election,” he said.

“It’s striking to me how many 48-48 or 45-45 [percent] numbers come up on almost anything,” Mr. Zogby said.

The numbers are gloomiest on the economy, despite a decline in the national unemployment rate to 5.2 percent, a level that many economists consider full employment. A USA Today/CNN/Gallup Poll last month found 59 percent of people surveyed said economic conditions are getting worse, the president’s lowest economic score in two years.

“One in five are afraid of losing their jobs. That’s higher than usual. It’s usually one in seven,” Mr. Zogby said.

Republican pollster David Winston thinks the price of gas is the major factor behind the public’s unhappiness.

“They have had a positive view about where the economy is going, but they have been unsettled by increasing gas prices,” he said.

A national poll for the Associated Press last month found that 51 percent of Americans surveyed said the cost of gas had caused them financial hardship, while 58 percent said they had cut back their driving and 62 percent said Mr. Bush was “not handling the nation’s energy problems effectively.”

Voter dissatisfaction was especially high in heavily Democratic “blue states” such as Michigan, which have been hit hard by manufacturing job losses, but more favorable to the president in Republican “red states” such as Indiana.

“Depression,” Democratic pollster Ed Sarpolus of EPIC/MRA said when asked to sum up the mood in Michigan, where unemployment is nearly 7 percent.

In Indiana, however, 55 percent approve of the overall job Mr. Bush is doing, according to an Indianapolis Star/WTHR poll, but slightly less than half approve of his handing of the situation in Iraq, the economy or Social Security.

“Public opinion lags behind economic reality,” Republican pollster Whit Ayres said. “For the past three months we’ve been inundated by stories about rising gas prices, a slowing economy, large deficits, the impending bankruptcy in Social Security, gridlock over judges.

“All that has created a bit of sourness in the public mood right now,” he said. “It’s nothing like a major depression in public opinion, but more of a momentary indigestion.”

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