- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 22, 2002

A strong plurality of Americans in a new poll believes that nobody is to blame for the current recession, while among the rest of the respondents, more blame former President Bill Clinton than President Bush for the downturn.

In addition, only one in five voters sees last year's tax cut as the reason the federal budget will run a deficit, according to the American Survey, a poll by Andres McKenna Research, conducted from Jan. 14 to Jan. 16.

The poll has a margin of error of 4.9 percent and surveyed 400 registered voters nationwide a small sample, but enough to show broad trends. And with Republicans and Democrats honing election-year messages, the poll, part of which was taken for high-ranking Republican strategists, shows what is likely to work and not work.

For starters, both Republicans' argument that it is the "Osama bin Laden recession" and Democrats' argument that it is Mr. Bush's recession are likely to fall on deaf ears, according to Michael McKenna, who conducted the poll.

Only 12 percent blame the terrorist attacks for the downturn, and another 12 percent of respondents blame Mr. Bush. In fact, 17 percent blame his predecessor, Mr. Clinton, for the recession, while 39 percent say nobody is to blame and it is part of a normal economic cycle.

But the parties will have to find some economic message that works 40 percent of Americans said the economy was either the first or second most important issue facing the country. The war on terrorism came in second at 39 percent, and education trailed in third with 28 percent.

Still, respondents generally didn't think the government has or should have a big role in boosting the economy. Only 27 percent said the government "can do a lot to help the economy, and they should." Another 38 percent said the government can do "some things," while 29 percent said the government either cannot or should not do anything to stimulate the economy.

"In short, about three in four respondents have minimal expectations from the federal government," Mr. McKenna wrote in an analysis.

Among the poll's other findings:

•Respondents thought America's media is as likely to be an obstacle in the war on terrorism as the terrorists themselves. Twenty-seven percent rated terrorists the biggest obstacle, while 26 percent rated the media a big obstacle.

•As further proof that the public's honeymoon with the media after September 11 is over, 42 percent of respondents said it will take a year or less for the media to turn against the war effort. Another 12 percent said the media will hold out for more than a year, while a third said the media will never turn against the war.

•Only 7 percent said they would be outraged if Mr. Bush's upcoming budget has a deficit, and another 10 percent said they would be severely disappointed. A full 16 percent said their reaction to hearing the budget has a deficit would be "boredom." In addition, 64 percent said it's more important to have an improved economy while 14 percent said it's more important to balance the budget.

•The poll also provides evidence for the theory that Americans prefer divided government. Forty-eight percent of respondents said they would prefer Congress to be controlled by a different party than the presidency. Over the past 20 years, the same party has had control of the White House and both houses of Congress for a total of 21/2 years.

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