The economy and Iraq are once again two of the three most prevalent issues of the year, with gas prices making the biggest jump in the last 12 months on the list of topics friends and neighbors are talking about.

In addition, President George W. Bush finishes the year with a sizable minority of Americans approving of the job he's doing — 10 points lower than where he started the year. A majority believes this week's parliamentary elections in Iraq will have a positive effect on the future of democracy in that country. These are just some of the findings from the latest FOX News national poll.

Some 70 percent of Americans think the new Iraqi government needs the help of the United States to defeat the terrorist opposition, and 64 percent think the Iraqi people would be worse off if U.S. troops were to leave the country now.

The poll finds 61 percent of Americans think this week's parliamentary elections will have a positive effect on the future of democracy in Iraq, though nearly half (48 percent) think attacks by the terrorist opposition will increase after the elections.

Looking ahead, more than three times as many people think this time next year the situation in Iraq will be better (42 percent) than think it will be worse (12 percent). Four in 10 think it will be about the same.

When asked who will ultimately win the war in Iraq, a 57 percent majority thinks the Iraqis aided by the United States will win, while about one in ten (12 percent) think the terrorist insurgents and one in five (18 percent) say it is too soon to tell. In addition, by 51 percent to 38 percent Americans disagree with Democratic Party Chair Howard Dean's comment that the war in Iraq is not winnable.

One in four say President Bush's recent speeches on Iraq have given them a better understanding of the situation, while twice as many — 53 percent — disagree. Another 17 percent are unfamiliar with the speeches at all.

Opinion is sharply divided on whether Republicans (37 percent) or Democrats (35 percent) are the more trusted political party on Iraq, with almost a quarter saying "neither" or "both the same."

Job Performance Ratings

President Bush's average job rating for the year 2005 is 46 percent, making this the lowest annual average of his presidency. This year's average rating is down slightly from a 49 percent average in 2004; his highest annual average of 72 percent came in 2002, buoyed by post-9/11 ratings throughout that year that were in the high sixties to low eighties.

The president's job rating now sits at 42 percent approve and 51 percent disapprove, essentially unchanged from two weeks ago, but up from last month when his approval hit a record low of 36 percent (November 8-9).

Bush's current approval rating is inline with that of the vice president and secretary of defense, though considerably lower than that of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Job Performance Ratings
Approve Disapprove
Rice 59% 26
Bush 42% 51
Rumsfeld 40% 44
Cheney 38% 48
Congress 30% 52

Year End Economic Ratings — A Repeat Performance

All in all, current views on the nation's economy are unchanged from ratings a year ago this time.

The new poll finds that 31 percent of Americans rate the country's economic conditions positively (5 percent "excellent" and 26 percent "good") and 67 percent give a more negative assessment (38 percent "only fair" and 29 percent "poor"). These results are roughly the same as those from last year's December survey.

When the focus is switched from the national to the individual level, the ratings are much more positive — though here again unchanged from last year.

Nearly half of the public says their personal financial situation is "excellent" (8 percent) or "good" (40 percent), while the other half rate their situation as "only fair" (34 percent) or "poor" (16 percent).

National Economy
Dec 2005 Dec 2004
Excellent/Good 31% 32%
Fair/Poor 67 67
Personal Financial Situation
Dec 2005 Dec 2004
Excellent/Good 48% 50%
Fair/Poor 50 48

"In some ways, these numbers have to be disappointing to the Bush administration," comments Opinion Dynamics Chairman John Gorman. "They can point to statistics showing gains in GDP, national wealth and so on, but the public simply doesn't feel any better than they did a year ago about the economic situation they're in."

What's ahead? Expectations are nearly identical to what they were last December: Today a 48 percent plurality sees their personal financial situation getting better in 2006, with fewer than one in five (17 percent) saying it will be worse and 30 percent saying it will be the same.

Even though gas prices have come down from the record highs seen earlier this year and the Federal Reserve describes the nation's economy as "solid," prices at the pump and economic conditions continue to be hot subjects. When asked what topic comes up most often in conversation with friends and neighbors, Iraq tops the list (16 percent), edging out gas prices (13 percent) and the economy/jobs (12 percent).

In December 2004, Iraq topped the list (21 percent), with the economy (18 percent) coming in a close second and gas prices barely making the list (2 percent).

Supreme Court

Support for Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito has dipped, though not because opposition has increased, but rather shifted toward the "don't know" column.

President Bush announced Alito's nomination to replace retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on October 31 and shortly thereafter a 46 percent plurality of Americans said they would vote to confirm him, with 29 percent were opposed and 25 percent unsure (November 8-9).

Now, the new poll finds 35 percent say they would vote to confirm Alito, 27 percent would oppose and 38 percent are unsure. While support has dropped among Republicans and Democrats alike, Republicans are still more than three times as likely to say they would vote to confirm Alito.

Alito's Senate confirmation hearings are scheduled to begin January 9.

The nominee remains somewhat unknown to the public. Overall, nearly half of Americans (46 percent) believe Alito is more of a conservative than a liberal, while 7 percent think he is more of a liberal and fully 39 percent are unable to say.

Similarly, though more voters have a favorable (23 percent) than an unfavorable (15 percent) opinion of Alito, most are either undecided (24 percent) or have never heard of him (38 percent). For comparison, a third say they have a favorable opinion of newly appointed Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, 15 percent unfavorable, 25 percent unsure and 27 percent have never heard of him.

• PDF: Click here for full poll results.