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Thursday, April 24

Poll: Americans feel safer but worry about economy

By Richard Benedetto | GNS

WASHINGTON - The American people, feeling more secure since the Iraq war, are less worried about being victims of a terrorist attack than at any time since Sept. 11, 2001, a USA TODAY-CNN-Gallup Poll shows.

Just one in three are worried that they or a member of their family will become a victim of a terrorist attack. As recently as February, before the war began, nearly half were worried about that.

The April 22-23 poll further suggests that success on the Iraqi battlefield has boosted public confidence that the United States and its allies are winning the war on terrorism to its highest level in more than a year - 65 percent, a sharp gain from 37 percent in early March, before fighting began.

But while most Americans are feeling safer after the way things have turned out in Iraq, the poll also shows that there is continuing dissatisfaction with the economy and President Bush's stewardship on that front.

The president's overall job approval, boosted by the war, is holding at 70 percent. Yet, Americans are split 50 percent to 48 percent over whether he is in touch with the problems of ordinary people. And more than half, 54 percent, say he is not spending enough time on the economy.

Moreover, 53 percent say the candidates' economic plans will be more important in their voting decision during the 2004 presidential election than national security strategies, a danger signal for Bush.

The poll of 1,001 adults has an error margin of plus or minus 3 percentage points and plus or 5 points on questions evaluating the Bush tax plan.

In the short term, Bush benefits from the Iraq success:

- 58 percent say the war has made the United States safer from terrorism, up from 51 percent two weeks ago when fighting was still heavy.

- 80 percent approve of the way the United States has handled the situation in Iraq since major combat ended, despite reports of widespread disorder and looting there and criticism of U.S. efforts to stop it.

At the same time, few Americans are in a rush to get U.S. troops out. Three-fourths say take the time to establish a democratic government in Iraq, even if it means staying a year or more.

Two-thirds say the war is not over yet and 73 percent believe Saddam Hussein is still alive.

But in terms of overseeing the transition and providing humanitarian assistance to the Iraqi people, most prefer that the United Nations, not the United States, take the lead role.

Bush has been cool to that idea, being pushed by France and Russia, opponents of the war.

A thin majority, however, say the United States should be in charge of searching for weapons of mass destruction, not the United Nations.

On Thursday, Bush traveled to Ohio to push his economic plan and try to convince Americans that he is paying attention to issues other than foreign affairs.

``It's important that Washington respond to some of the problems we face," Bush said at a ball-bearing factory in North Canton. ``For the sake of our country, for the sake of the workers of America, Congress needs to pass this jobs growth package soon."

But the numbers suggest he has work to do to turn skeptics into believers in his tax-cut proposals to create jobs:

- 47 percent say the tax cut plans are a bad idea.

- 42 percent say they are a good idea.

Adding to Bush's woes are the economic perceptions of the American people, which often overshadow reality. Most, 56 percent, believe the economy is in recession, although official statistics show it is not.

If Bush were running for re-election today, he would beat an unnamed Democrat 49 percent to 36 percent among registered voters, the poll shows.

However, hypothetical election match-ups this early are often misleading. At a similar point in 1991, when Bush's father was riding high in the afterglow of the Persian Gulf War, he was favored over an unnamed Democratic candidate, 67 percent to 17 percent. He lost the '92 election to Bill Clinton 43 percent to 38 percent in a three-way race with Ross Perot.