- The Washington Times - Monday, January 17, 2005

ASSOCIATED PRESS

A majority of Americans say they feel hopeful about President Bush’s second term, but those hopes are clouded by doubts about when the bloodshed in Iraq will end.

People say Iraq should be the president’s highest priority, according to an Associated Press (AP) poll that found that respondents are not optimistic that a stable government will take hold there.

After winning re-election, Mr. Bush is preparing to pursue an ambitious agenda that includes efforts to change Social Security, federal tax laws and medical-malpractice awards.

Ahead of Mr. Bush’s inauguration on Thursday, six in 10 people said they feel hopeful about his second term. In addition, 47 percent said they are worried. Most said they are neither angry nor excited about his final four years in office.

Iraq was cited most often as the president’s highest priority, according to the poll conducted for AP by Ipsos-Public Affairs. Of those questioned, 53 percent said it is unlikely that Iraq will have a stable government.

“Iraq remains the kind of thing that could completely take over the term, if the situation gets a lot worse,” said Charles Franklin, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

Mr. Bush’s domestic wish list — with its focus on allowing private accounts in Social Security for younger Americans, limiting lawsuit awards, and overhauling tax laws — could gain momentum from the increased Republican majorities in the House and Senate. But Republican lawmakers are showing a willingness to challenge Mr. Bush’s proposals.

Behind Iraq in public concerns for Mr. Bush’s second term is the economy, which moved past terrorism as a top concern in AP polls in the past two months. Social Security was named as a top issue by only 9 percent, taxes by 2 percent.

People were relatively optimistic about their own personal finances in the next year. Four in 10 said they expect their own situation to improve, and a similar number said they expect it will stay the same, according to the poll of 1,000 adults taken Jan. 10 to 12. The margin of error is three percentage points.

Public perceptions of the president’s personal strengths are his biggest asset today.

Almost two-thirds of those polled described Mr. Bush as likable, strong and intelligent. A majority said he is dependable and honest.

Those assets are reflected in his latest approval ratings.

According to a Time magazine poll conducted Wednesday through Thursday, the president’s approval rating had risen to 53 percent. Last month, his approval rating was 49 percent.

The overall ratings in Time’s poll reflect increases across many issues, including his handling of Iraq, the economy and the war on terrorism.

But the nation is divided on his aggressive Social Security reform. According to Time’s poll, 47 percent oppose the president’s plan to allow people to invest part of their Social Security payroll taxes in stocks and bonds, while 44 percent support it.

The Time poll was from a sample of 1,002 adults and also has a margin of error of three percentage points.

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