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AP Poll: Foreign Policy, Economy Most Important

Americans have turned much of their attention over the last three months back to the economy and foreign affairs (search) — including the war in Iraq and terrorism (search) — as the nation's top problems, pushing aside worries about non-economic domestic issues, AP-Ipsos polling found.

People were asked in an open-ended question last week to name the nation's most important problem.

Four in 10 picked foreign affairs — with war being the concern picked most often, followed by terrorism. That's up from 32 percent in April. Nearly three in 10, 28 percent, cited the economy — up from 19 percent in April. Concerns about other domestic issues dropped during that time.

Several months after the 2004 presidential election, people were beginning to shift attention from the issues that dominated the campaign — the economy (search) and foreign affairs. But recent events have forced the two back to the forefront.

"The two of them are interlinked," said Richard Davis of Pines Circle, Minn. "The Bush tax cut and the war in Iraq have caused us to overspend our budget and we're in a huge deficit that's starting to hurt the economy."

Davis, a Democrat, says he has become more concerned in recent months about the war, where new episodes of deadly homicide bombings kill Iraqi civilians and U.S. soldiers almost daily.

"I don't see us getting out of it gracefully," Davis said. "It seems to be endless."

Women have shifted their priorities sharply since April, with almost half now likely to place the top priority on foreign affairs.

"Terrorism and homeland security are problems that are getting bigger," said Leigh Mitchell, a Republican from Chattanooga, Tenn., with a 3-year-old daughter. "We don't want to have suicide bombers at McDonald's. I'm afraid that's the direction we could be headed."

U.S. efforts to create democracies in countries like Afghanistan and Iraq might help transform the Middle East, but that will take time, she said.

The increased concern about the economy was led by non-whites and Southerners. Economic concerns also remain high in the Midwest.

Consumer confidence over the past month slid to a two-year low, according to Ipsos polling in the United States for the Royal Bank of Canada. Economists say terrorism fears rekindled by the London bombings probably played a large role in the decline.

The fade in economic optimism may be related to concerns about terrorism, rising energy prices, worries about inflated home prices that may eventually drop again and anxiety over retirement security.

People often mentioned their worries were related to the war and terrorism.

"They are trying to do too much with too few assets in the military," said Hazel Sabine, a retiree in Binghamton, N.Y. "You can't put people all over the world and expect things to turn out right."

For some, it's hard to decide which of the nation's problems is most important.

Jack Armstrong, a Republican-leaning salesman who lives near Kalamazoo, Mich., said his choice "depends on what day you ask me."

The poll of 500 people was conducted for AP by Ipsos, an international polling firm, on July 11-13 and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.