A majority of Americans say they feel hopeful about President Bush's second term and have a generally positive view of him personally, but they also express continued doubts about Iraq.
People were most likely to identify Iraq as the top priority for Bush, an Associated Press poll found. But more than half wondered whether a stable government can be established there.
After winning re-election, Bush is preparing to pursue an ambitious agenda that includes efforts to change Social Security, federal tax laws and medical malpractice awards.
Ahead of Bush's inauguration on Thursday, six in 10 people said they felt hopeful about his second term and in response to a separate question 47 percent said they were worried. Most said they were neither angry nor excited about his final four years in office.
Iraq was cited most often as the president's highest priority, according to the poll conducted for the AP by Ipsos-Public Affairs. Some 53 percent of those questioned said it is unlikely Iraq will have a stable government.
"Iraq remains the kind of thing that could completely take over the term, if the situation gets a lot worse," said Charles Franklin, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "It's a good idea for the president to push new domestic proposals. He has to find a way to have the whole second term be about more than just Iraq."
More than 1,350 U.S. troops have died in Iraq. Deadly attacks by insurgents are on the rise as the Jan. 30 elections near.
"It's best to be hopeful about the next four years," said Kellie Shanahan, a Republican and a teacher from Wilmington, N.C. "If we're not, it won't be good for our country."
Bush leads a nation much changed from the one when he took office in January 2001. The Sept. 11 attacks have changed everything, from the shape of government and the health of the economy to the conduct of U.S. foreign policy.
Public perceptions of the president's personal strengths are his biggest asset today.
Nearly two-thirds of those polled described Bush as likable, strong and intelligent. A majority said he is dependable and honest.
Bush is likely to need to draw on those personal strengths as he pursues an aggressive second-term agenda.
His domestic wish list — with its focus on allowing private accounts in Social Security for younger Americans, limiting lawsuit awards and overhauling the tax laws — could gain momentum from the increased GOP majorities in the House and Senate. Republican lawmakers are showing an increased willingness to challenge Bush's proposals, however.
Close behind Iraq in public concerns for Bush's second term is the economy, which moved past terrorism as a top concern in AP polls in the past two months. Social Security was named as a top issue by only 9 percent, taxes by 2 percent.
After picking up in 2004, the economy probably will slow this year, influenced by rising interest rates, higher energy costs and the lack of a new tax cut, economists say.
People were relatively optimistic about their own personal finances in the next year. Four in 10 said they expect their own situation to improve; a similar number said they believe it will stay the same.
Some who express doubts about Iraq, say they understand why Bush is trying to change that region of the world.
"Parts of the Middle East live in a state of mind that's a thousand years back in history," said Thomas Callow, a Democrat from Canton, Ohio. "They do need to be brought up with the rest of the world.
"But I don't know that we have to invade very little country we have a problem with."
The poll of 1,000 adults was taken Jan. 10-12. It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
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