President George W. Bush's ratings are down a few notches, many Americans are unclear about Social Security investment accounts, and the Terri Schiavo (search) case and gas prices join the typically popular topics of the economy and Iraq as the most talked about topics among friends and neighbors this month. These are some of the findings from the latest FOX News nationwide poll.

At 49 percent, the president's job approval rating is below 50 percent for the first time this year, having dropped from 52 percent at the beginning of March. Views of Bush as a person also declined, with his favorable rating now at 49 percent, down from 54 percent (March 1-2).

As a follow up to the job performance question, respondents were asked to explain in their own words the reason for their approval/disapproval. Of the 49 percent that approve of Bush's job performance, a 51 percent majority says "he is doing a good job" in general and another 18 percent cite their agreement with him on the issues. His handling of the war on terrorism is mentioned by 14 percent, down from 34 percent at the beginning of last year (Jan 2004).

Overall, 46 percent of Americans disapprove of the job Bush is doing now, and the most frequently cited reason for giving a negative rating is Iraq (40 percent). The other top reasons include disagreement on issues in general (20 percent), "doing a bad job" (16 percent), the sentiment that Bush does not care about average people (12 percent), dislike of Bush (10 percent) and Social Security (8 percent).

Opinion Dynamics Corporation conducted the national telephone poll of 900 registered voters for FOX News on March 29-30.

A 64 percent majority approves of the job the U.S. military is doing handling the post-war situation in Iraq and 25 percent disapprove. In May 2003, shortly after the U.S. military took control of Baghdad and toppled the statue of Saddam, approval was a sky-high 80 percent.

How does Congress rate today? While a large minority (40 percent) approve of the job Congress is doing, almost as many — 36 percent — disapprove (24 percent are unsure). Today's ratings of Congress are not dramatically different from around this time last year when 38 percent approved and 42 percent disapproved (April 2004).

Ratings of the two major political parties are almost identical. Nearly half of Americans have a favorable view of the Republican Party (48 percent) and the Democratic Party (46 percent), and 38 percent have an unfavorable view of each party.

Hot Topics

The poll finds the economy (14 percent) and Iraq (13 percent) are the most talked about issues by friends and neighbors right now, followed closely by gas prices (11 percent) and the Terri Schiavo case (10 percent). The topic of gas prices jumped 9 percentage points since December polling, while Iraq dropped 8 points.

"Most people get their information about Iraq from the news media, while they learn about gas prices at the pump," comments Opinion Dynamics President John Gorman. "Thus when the media focus on other issues — Social Security (search), Schiavo, and other things — interest in Iraq wanes. It doesn't matter how much the media focus on gas prices, though, because the issue is one of personal experience for most people."

In addition, when read a list of issues, the economy (16 percent) has a slight edge as being considered the highest priority for the government to address right now. The economy is closely followed by health care (13 percent), the war on terrorism (12 percent), Iraq (11 percent), Social Security (10 percent), education (9 percent) and gas prices (6 percent). More than 1 in 5 are unable to prioritize and say all the issues should be of equal importance.

Social Security

President Bush has undertaken a cross-country tour to talk with Americans about the problems facing the Social Security program. The latest FOX News poll shows many people agree with the president that changes need to be made in the near future, and a 54 majority says they are either very or somewhat concerned the system will not have enough money to pay full benefits when they retire.

Among those under age 55, fully 77 percent say they are either very or somewhat concerned that Social Security will lack the funds to pay their full benefits when they retire.

When asked about the proposal for personal investment accounts, 39 percent of Americans say they think the accounts would be voluntary, but 12 percent incorrectly think the accounts are mandatory. Moreover, almost half (49 percent) are either unsure or say they haven't heard enough to say how the accounts would work.

Even so, a 60 percent majority says they favor giving individuals the choice to invest a portion of the contributions and 28 percent oppose. Support for investment accounts is highest among those under age 30 (76 percent), though a 56 majority of those over age 55 say they favor giving individuals the choice to invest.

• PDF: Click here for full poll results.