WASHINGTON – As President Bush (search) mulls what to do after winning re-election, voters say his first priority should be resolving the situation in Iraq, where the fighting is growing more intense.
They also want Bush to cut the deficit, which ballooned under his watch, rather than pushing for more tax cuts, according to an Associated Press poll taken right after the election.
The voters' concerns stood in contrast to the priorities Bush cited after he defeated Democrat John Kerry. Bush pledged to aggressively pursue major changes in Social Security (search), tax laws and medical malpractice awards. Terrorism was a chief concern both for Bush and many voters in the poll.
"I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it," Bush said a day after becoming the first president in 68 years to win re-election and gain seats in both the House and Senate.
Some 27 percent of respondents named Iraq as the top priority for the president's second term, ahead of issues such as terrorism, the economy and health care.
Only 2 percent named taxes as a priority. By more than a 2-1 margin, voters said they preferred that the president balance the budget rather than reduce taxes further.
After a campaign dominated by discussion of Iraq and terrorism, national security issues are at the top of voters' concerns along with the economy. Voters were asked to pick from a list of issues in the AP poll that included Iraq, terrorism, the economy, unemployment, health care, education and taxes.
Many voters on Election Day indicated they were also concerned about "moral values" — a broader concern than specific issues such as health care and education.
Republicans ranked terrorism first on the list, followed by Iraq and the economy as priorities for Bush. Democrats were most likely to name Iraq, followed by the economy and health care while independents picked Iraq and then terrorism, according to the poll conducted for the AP by Ipsos-Public Affairs.
"He has to go 500 percent in Iraq," said Ruth Shoemaker, an independent and a retiree from Chula Vista, Calif. "That's why I voted for the president."
Seven in 10 voters, including a majority of Democrats, would prefer that U.S. troops to stay in Iraq until the country is stable, instead of having them leave immediately.
U.S. troops are preparing for assaults on insurgent strongholds used as havens for those mounting increased attacks against coalition forces.
"There has got to be some kind of resolution in Iraq," said Erwin Neighbors, a Republican and a community college teacher from Moberly, Mo. "We can't fold our tent without accomplishing our goals."
On the domestic front, Bush says his plans to overhaul the tax laws would be "revenue-neutral" and would not cut taxes. Throughout the past year, however, he has urged Congress to make earlier tax cuts permanent.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (search) now sees $2.3 trillion in accumulated deficits over the next 10 years. That does not include the cost of the wars in Iraq (search) and Afghanistan.
Given the choice between balancing the budget and cutting taxes, voters chose balancing the budget by 66 percent to 31 percent. Just over half of Republicans as well as most Democrats and independents felt that way.
When the choice is between balancing the budget and spending more on education, health care and economic development, voters were divided. Slightly more wanted the additional domestic spending, 55 percent, than chose balancing the budget, 44 percent.
During his second term, Bush is likely to have an opening on the Supreme Court; Chief Justice William Rehnquist (search) is ill with cancer.
Six in 10 voters say they are comfortable that the president will nominate the right kind of person to serve on the court. Bush has sidestepped questions about who he would name if there were an opening.
But three-fourths of Democrats are uncomfortable with a potential Bush nomination to the high court.
"I'm very worried," said Carla Matlin, a Democrat and a marketing manager from the San Francisco area. "I'm afraid that, rather than mainstream judges, Bush will appoint judges that are way over on the right."
Asked whether Bush should appoint a justice who will uphold or overturn the Roe v. Wade decision that protected a woman's right to abortions, six in 10 said they want a justice who will uphold the landmark ruling.
Voters seem generally accepting of the election.
A majority, 54 percent, said the election results improved their confidence in the electoral system. Six in 10, including one-third of Democrats, said they felt "hopeful" after the election.
But more than eight in 10 Democrats, 84 percent, acknowledged their disappointment about the election results.
The AP-Ipsos poll of 844 registered voters was taken Nov. 3-5 and has a margin of sampling error of 3.5 percentage points.