War boosts U.S. morale economy stirs concern Domestic issues move up in poll WAR IN THE GULF

March 08, 1991|By New York Times News Service

The war in the Persian Gulf has given a striking boost to the nation's confidence and morale, but Americans are now turning their attention to the economy and other domestic concerns about which they are far less ebullient, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News Poll.

The poll found that President Bush is still on an extraordinary high with the American public, with an overall approval rating of 88 percent.

It showed Americans setting a post-Vietnam record for confidence in the military and voicing a new conviction that their country is not a declining world power.

Even as they began to fret about the economy, more than half seemed willing to concede that Mr. Bush had other things on his mind in recent months.

But there are signs of vulnerability, too, or at least new challenges for the president, as the troops begin returning home from the gulf and domestic issues move up on the public's agenda.

The economy is now mentioned more than anything else as the No. 1 problem facing the country: Thirty-six percent cited it this week, compared with 19 percent who gave that answer in October, when the economy was tied, roughly speaking, with the deficit and the Middle East as the

top problems.

And Mr. Bush's grades on the economy are in stark contrast to his grades on foreign policy, according to the nationwide telephone poll of 1,252 adults. Forty-two percent approve of the way he is handling the economy, while 83 percent approve of his conduct of foreign policy.

This helps explain why the Democrats are so eager to turn the political debate back to domestic issues. Some strategists consider this their only hope of mounting a competitive challenge to Mr. Bush in the 1992 election.

But the poll showed that the Democrats hardly have a clear shot on these issues: Forty-two percent of respondents say that the Republican Party is "better able to ensure a strong economy," compared with 27 percent who gave the edge to the Democratic Party.

In addition, the public seems to blame Ronald Reagan more than Mr. Bush for the recession: Forty-eight percent say they put a lot of the blame on the policies of the Reagan administration, compared with 15 percent who put the blame primarily on the Bush administration.

The survey, which has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points, was conducted in telephone interviews Monday through Wednesday.

No interviews were conducted after the president's speech to a joint session of Congress Wednesday, when he hailed the returning troops, pledged to get the economy rolling again and made a call for action on pressing domestic issues.

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