POLL: Iraq as a Must-Win Now Rejected by 2-1

These views are driven to a large extent by partisanship: Democrats (and Democratic-leaning independents) are much more likely than Republicans to pick either the economy or the war as their top issue; and partisan self-identification as usual is the single best predictor of vote preference.

Even without naming specific candidates, Americans by 55-34 percent say a Democratic president would do better than a Republican handling the economy, and by a similar 52-35 percent margin people pick a Democrat to better handle the situation in Iraq.

ECONOMY – The bleak economic ratings are no surprise. The weekly ABC News Consumer Confidence Index hit a 14-year low Tuesday; 73 percent of Americans say the economy's getting worse, the most since late 1990.

The government's forthcoming economic stimulus -- rebate checks and tax breaks for businesses -- may be too little, too late; the number of Americans who don't think it'll help avoid or ease a recession has grown from 67 percent in February to 79 percent now. Only 17 percent now think the stimulus will help, down from 28 percent.

Indeed, the intended stimulating effect of the rebate checks is hardly a slam dunk: Just a quarter of Americans say they'll spend the money; most instead plan on socking it into savings (32 percent) or using it to pay existing bills (31 percent). These intentions haven't changed since February.

GAS – One of the most tangible economic complaints is the price of gasoline. Two-thirds of Americans say it's causing them financial hardship, a scant 3 points from the record high in 2006. And 38 percent say it's a serious hardship.

The pain hits lower-income Americans hardest. In poor families, with less than $20,000 in annual income, 66 percent report serious hardship as a result of rising gas prices. In working class families, with incomes from $20,000 to $50,000, it's 44 percent. That eases to 35 percent in middle class families, 25 percent in the upper middle, and just 15 percent of those at the top end, with more than $100,000 in household income.

Republicans, who tend to be better off, are much less likely to report serious financial hardship (28 percent, versus four in 10 Democrats and independents alike). Beyond income groups, serious hardship peaks among African-Americans, less educated adults and unmarried women -- all more Democratic than Republican populations.

THE NEXT YEAR – There is increasing pessimism about the national economy in the coming year, but a reserve of financial optimism remains at the individual level. Nearly six in 10 Americans are pessimistic about the state of the national economy in the next 12 months, the most in polls since 2003 and up 7 points from February.

Many fewer, 32 percent, are pessimistic about their own family's financial situation, about the same as in February, but twice as high as its low in 2006. Substantial research, however, suggests that Americans are more apt to vote on their view of the national economy than on the basis of their personal well-being -- a sociotropic rather than purely self-interested model.

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