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Political Divisions Persist After Election

Bush gets higher marks on the key issue of terrorism, where a 61 percent majority approve of the job he is doing, up eight points in the past month. And 56 percent expressed satisfaction with his education policies. The public is divided on the president's handling of environmental issues, foreign affairs and taxes.

Expectations are high for Bush as he begins his second term. Seven in 10 say they expect him to make major progress against terrorism. Smaller majorities also expect the president to move forward on the economy, Iraq, education, limiting medical and class-action lawsuits, and taxes.


Americans rank Iraq and the war on terrorism as the top priorities for President Bush in his second term. (Ron Edmonds -- AP)

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But on other issues, the public is more pessimistic. Slightly fewer than half said they expect Bush to make substantial progress on Social Security (46 percent) and health care (48 percent). And even fewer expect major successes by Bush on such issues as the environment (32 percent), the deficit (35 percent) and immigration (39 percent).

The complex political challenges facing Bush and congressional Democrats can be seen in public attitudes on two issues that are emerging as the cornerstones of Bush's domestic agenda: Social Security and limiting medical malpractice and class-action lawsuits.

Overall, the public expresses more confidence in Democrats in Congress (50 percent) than in the Bush administration (37 percent) to deal with problems in the Social Security system. But another picture emerges when the public is asked to evaluate specific reform proposals under consideration by the Bush administration.

Americans divide equally over Bush's proposal to index Social Security benefits for future retirees to increases in the cost of living rather than to wage growth as is now the case, a change that would effectively mean benefits would be lower than currently projected. A clear majority of Americans -- 55 percent -- support the president's proposal to allow younger workers to put some of their Social Security savings into stocks or bonds. When packaged together, the two components draw the support of 54 percent of those surveyed.

The survey suggests that Democratic leaders may be out of step with their rank and file on the severity of the problems facing Social Security. Those leaders are attempting to thwart Bush's plans by saying there is no immediate crisis. But two-thirds of all Democrats said they worry that there is not enough money to keep Social Security funded until they retire.

The public is pessimistic about reducing partisanship in Bush's second term. Two in three Americans say Bush will not make progress on that front, but the subject ranks low on the public's list of second-term priorities.

A total of 1,007 randomly selected adults were interviewed Jan. 12 to 16 for this survey. Margin of sampling error for the overall results is plus or minus three percentage points.

Assistant polling director Claudia Deane contributed to this report.


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