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Bush's Economic Report Card Shows Little Progress

by Raksha Arora, Business and Economy Editor

One in four Americans say president's policies are helping

Despite the recent run-up in fuel prices, unemployment still tops the list when Gallup asks Americans to name the most important economic problem facing the country today. Nineteen percent of Americans mention unemployment, jobs, or wages as the top problem, while 15% mention fuel or oil prices, according to a June 16-19 Gallup Poll*.

At 5.1%, the unemployment rate in May was the lowest it has been since September 2001. And 40% of Americans say now is a good time to find a quality job, the most positive rating Gallup has measured since 2001. Even so, since January, the job issue has typically been mentioned at least as frequently as or more so than any other problem when Americans answer this open-ended question. Mentions of fuel prices were essentially tied with unemployment in March and April.

Lackluster Report

Americans remain concerned about the economy, as more say they expect it to get worse than get better, and Bush's economic approval rating stands at 41%, with 55% disapproving.

Gallup asks the public on a monthly basis if Bush's economic policies are "helping the economy, not having much effect, or hurting the economy." The trend line over the last five months shows consistently lackluster ratings. Slightly more than a third of Americans (36%) say Bush's economic policies are hurting the economy. This percentage has remained fairly steady, with a high point of 40% in April. A similar percentage of Americans (37%) say the president's policies are not having much of an effect. About one in every four Americans (24%), on the other hand, say the president's policymaking has helped the economy, and this percentage has hovered within a five-point range since February.

Ideology and Opinion of Economic Policy

Naturally, conservatives are far more likely than liberals to believe the president's policies are helping the economy, while liberals are more inclined to say Bush's economic policies are hurting the economy. But while a clear majority of liberals (56%) agree that the president's policies have hurt the American economy (32% say Bush's policies have no effect and just 10% say Bush is helping), conservatives are more divided in their opinions. Currently, conservatives are about evenly divided between those saying Bush is helping the economy (38%) and those saying he is having no effect (39%), with 20% of conservatives saying Bush's policies are hurting the economy.

Regional Ratings of Economic Policy

Opinions of Bush's economic policies also vary by geographic region. Respondents in the South give Bush the most favorable marks, with 31% of Southerners saying Bush's policies are helping. Just 17% of Midwesterners, 19% of Easterners, and 24% of Westerners agree. The West appears to be the most skeptical region, with 44% saying Bush's policies are hurting the economy.

Bottom Line

Good news about unemployment numbers and consumer confidence may have been lost in the shuffle because of discussion about the Bush administration's handling of the Iraq war. But despite Bush's focus on Iraq, Americans are clearly concerned about gas prices and unemployment, and they are not exactly pleased with what their president is doing to help the situation. The president has recently focused on boosting support for the war in Iraq -- but he should also keep in mind his public support may decline more if he appears inattentive to Americans' economic worries, a lesson his father learned in 1991 and 1992.

*Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,006 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted June 16-19, 2005. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.


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