Americans remain solidly supportive of President Bush on the war on terrorism and as the new year begins, many have an increasingly optimistic outlook on the country's economy.

As has been the case in all FOX News/Opinion Dynamics polls since September 11, more than 8 in 10 Americans approve of Bush's overall job performance. When asked about his handling of the war on terrorism, the number climbs to 89 percent. However, on issues closer to home, such as the economy, Bush's approval rating drops to 59 percent.

While the condition of the economy is considered to be "excellent" or "good" by less than half the number that thought so a year ago, much of the public is optimistic about the economy's future. More than 70 percent think the economy will be in better shape a year from now, and 81 percent feel confident about their own financial future (36 percent feel "very" confident).

The poll found 55 percent think the recession is coming to an end, a double-digit increase from just three weeks ago. Less than one-third believe we are headed deeper into economic decline. These numbers track with the public's expectations for the coming year in general. Fully 69 percent of Americans believe 2002 will be better than 2001, while 23 think the year ahead will be the same or worse than last year.

Glancing Toward 2004

If Americans were voting for president right now, about half say they would vote to re-elect President Bush, 21 percent for the Democratic candidate, and 30 percent think it depends on the Democratic candidate or are undecided. Among self-described Democrats, former Vice President Al Gore is the top choice for the party's nominee, with New York Senator Hillary Clinton and Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman rounding out the top three choices.

"While Bush is in the strongest shape of any president in a long while, if the issues shift back toward domestic policy questions such as health care, Social Security, and so on, Bush’s rating is bound to drop, " comments Opinion Dynamics President John Gorman. "Even on his stronger issues, 60 percent support is a lot less than the 90 percent he has enjoyed on the war effort. There is going to be a temptation to overstate the meaning of these lower levels of support on other issues because they’ll be compared to the high levels of the last couple of months rather than to the ratings of other relatively popular presidents such as Reagan and Clinton."

When compared to Bush, 42 percent think Gore, if he had been elected, would be doing a better job or the same job handling the war on terrorism as Bush is doing and 46 percent think he would be doing worse than Bush. The numbers are more favorable to Gore on handling the economy — 53 think Gore would be doing a better or the same job as Bush and 34 think he would be doing worse.

Trials of Accused Terrorists

More than half of Americans think the federal trials of accused terrorists, such as Zacarias Moussaoui, the man many believe was supposed to be the 20th suicide hijacker on Sept. 11, should not be televised, even as 54 percent say they would watch if it were. Similarly, a majority opposed televising the Oklahoma City bombing trial in 1997, just as a majority said then that they would watch if it were made available.

Televised or not, most are confident (45 percent "very" and 32 percent "somewhat" confident) that accused terrorists will receive fair trials in the U.S.

See the Poll Questions and Results

Polling was conducted by telephone January 9-10, 2002 in the evenings. The sample is 900 registered voters nationwide with a margin of error of ± 3 percentage points.