Americans Shift Attention to Domestic Issues, Wary of North Korea’s Motives

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The number of Americans citing the economy as most important far exceeds that of every other issue, and other domestic issues such as health care, education and taxes also see significant gains as war and terrorism drop considerably in the list of national priorities.

In a FOX News nationwide poll, conducted by Opinion Dynamics Corporation (May 6-7), the nation’s economy is named at least two-and-a-half times more than any other issue as the most important for the federal government to address right now. When the issues of the economy and jobs are combined, they are named twice as often as the combined issues of war, terrorism, and homeland security. In the months preceding the war in Iraq, these competing priorities were on almost even footing.

The public’s optimism for the economy has inched up, with 58 percent saying they are either strongly (25 percent) or somewhat optimistic (33 percent) right now. That represents a three point increase in optimism since March, and an 18 point increase since early February.

The partisan gap here is striking, as almost twice as many Republicans as Democrats feel optimistic about the nation’s economy (78 percent to 42 percent respectively). The gap is even wider when looking only at those feeling "strongly optimistic" – 38 percent of Republicans and 11 percent of Democrats.

The president’s job approval rating is unchanged from two weeks ago. At 65 percent approval, Bush’s current rating is 10 percentage points higher than in late February, before the war in Iraq began. During the course of the war, Bush’s approval rating reached a high of 71 percent (April 8-9). For comparison, in the months following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, the president’s job rating went as high as 88 percent approval.

Partisanship is clearly evident in Bush’s performance ratings, with a 58 percentage point difference between the approval rating from Republicans (94 percent) and Democrats (36 percent).

As debate continues in Washington over the various tax plans, slightly more Americans say they generally agree more with Republicans on the issue of taxes. While eight percent say they do not agree with either party, 42 percent say they agree more with Republicans and 36 percent agree more with Democrats.

Overall, half of Americans say they prefer lower taxes and fewer government services, and about one-third (34 percent) would rather pay higher taxes and have the government provide more services. When asked which plan they prefer for collecting taxes, the majority splits between a flat-rate income tax with no deductions (38 percent) and the current graduated tax plan with deductions (35 percent). Some (16 percent) would choose a national sales tax over the other income tax plans.

As the level of unemployment remains high, Democrats and Republicans alike say they would favor tax cuts for businesses if the cuts were based on the number of new jobs that business created. Overall, about two-thirds of Americans (65 percent) favor this concept, including 64 percent of Democrats and 69 percent of Republicans.

"Poll after poll shows Americans want action to help the economy," comments Opinion Dynamics President John Gorman. "The problem is that there is no clear consensus about what course to take. Many people want more tax cuts, but many are skeptical of the budget implications of such cuts and also their effectiveness. As we've seen so many times in the last few years, the country is more divided than united on important issues."

North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons Program

A plurality of Americans (48 percent) believes the main reason North Korea is building nuclear weapons is to gain footing in its negotiations for additional economic aid. Only eight percent think the reason the weapons are being built is for defensive purposes, nine percent think North Korea is building the weapons to attack other countries and 10 percent think it is to sell them to others.

The public seems skeptical about what would happen if the United States were to agree to North Korea’s demands for economic aid in return for them halting the production of nuclear weapons, as almost three-quarters (74 percent) think North Korea would still continue building nukes.

Additional findings from the FOX News/Opinion Dynamics poll:

• Over half of Americans favor sending more United States peacekeeping troops to Afghanistan, in response to President Hamid Karzai’s request for help keeping the peace in his country.

• Fifty-four percent of Americans say they were surprised there were no terrorist attacks in the United States during the war with Iraq.

• If another terrorist attack happens in the United States, a sizeable majority (70 percent) favors taking military action against the home country of the terrorists and, almost as many, 67 percent, think the United States should take the lead in responding instead of following the lead of the United Nations (25 percent).

• Many Americans (56 percent) think the war with Iraq helped produce the recent drop in gas prices.

• Over two-thirds (68 percent) think the media coverage of SARS has been appropriate; only 21 percent think it has scared people unnecessarily.

Polling was conducted by telephone May 6-7, 2003 in the evenings. The sample is 900 registered voters nationwide with a margin of error of ± percentage points. Results are of registered voters, unless otherwise noted. LV = likely voters

1. Do you approve or disapprove of the job George W. Bush is doing as president?

2. What do you think are the two most important issues for the federal government to address (DO NOT READ)

3. Would you say you feel optimistic or pessimistic about the U.S. economy right now? (If optimistic/pessimistic, is that strongly or only somewhat?)

4. Which of the following statements do you agree with more?
SCALE: 1. I'd rather pay higher taxes to support a larger government that provides more services. 2. I'd rather pay lower taxes and have a smaller government that provides fewer services. 3. (Not sure)

5. If you could choose one plan to collect all federal taxes, which federal tax plan would you prefer:
SCALE: 1. A national sales tax, 2. A flat-rate income tax with no deductions, or 3. The current graduated income tax with deductions? 4. (Not sure)

6. Concerning taxes, do you generally agree more with the Democrats or more with the Republicans?
SCALE: 1. Democrats 2. Republicans 3. (Both) 4. (Neither) 5. (Mixed) 6. (Not sure)

7. Would you favor or oppose tax cuts for businesses if the cuts were based on the number of new jobs that business created?

8. Which do you think would do more to improve the nation’s economy right now?

9. Which do you think would do more to improve your family’s financial situation right now?

10. Who do you think spends more of their annual budget on unnecessary or wasteful items – (the average family) or (the federal government)? (ROTATE CHOICES)

11. If you could choose, which one of the following areas would your federal taxes go toward funding first? (Rotate)

12. Which one of the following do you think is the most likely reason North Korea is building nuclear weapons?

13. If the United States were to agree to the demands from North Korea and sign a treaty promising the United States will not attack North Korea and will provide additional aid, do you think North Korea would stop building nuclear weapons, or not?

14. Recently, Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai asked the United States to commit more troops to help keep the peace in his country. Would you favor or oppose sending more U.S. troops to help keep the peace in Afghanistan? (If favor or oppose – is that strongly or somewhat?)

15. How surprised were you that there were no terrorist attacks in the United States during the war with Iraq?

16-17. If another terrorist attack were to happen in the United States, would you favor or oppose a military retaliation on the home country of the terrorists? (If favors) Would you favor a military response as aggressive as was taken against Iraq?

18. If another terrorist attack were to happen in the United States, do you think the United States should follow the lead of the United Nations, or should the United States take the lead in responding?

19. Over the last six weeks, the average price of a gallon of self-serve regular gasoline has dropped more than 18 cents. How much do you think the war effort in Iraq had to do with this decline in gas prices: a lot, some, only a little, or nothing at all?

20. Do you think media coverage of the pneumonia-like illness called severe acute respiratory syndrome or SARS has been: