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Burdened by the Weight of Inflation

While oil companies were a primary target across party lines, Democrats and independents were much more apt to blame the Bush administration and the Iraq war than were Republicans. Thirty-four percent of Democrats and 21 percent of independents singled out the Bush administration or the Iraq war as the major reason behind the higher pump prices; just 7 percent of Republicans agreed.

Beyond gasoline costs, three in 10 Americans polled said they were having trouble paying other household bills because of rising prices. Of those finding the inflationary pressures hard to deal with, more than half were struggling with food costs, two in 10 with the price of electricity, 15 percent each with medical costs and other household expenses, and 11 percent with their housing costs.

"It's food, it's everything," said Nancy Scala of Sherman, Conn., a poll respondent.

Louis Hand from Orlando was one of those who highlighted health-care costs. "We could be living better if we didn't have to pay those high costs for medical care and prescriptions," he said in a follow-up interview.

And while concern about the economy has spread most quickly among middle- and upper-income households, lower-income families are still the ones having the most trouble coping.

"We've had to cut back on a lot of stuff," said Stephanie Green, 30, of Mount Airy, N.C., after returning from a trip to a Bottom Dollar grocery store, where shoppers bag their own groceries to help keep food prices down.

"I used to spend about $120 a week to buy food. To be honest, now I spend anywhere from $200 to $220 a week," said Green, who has three children. And with the price of gasoline at $3.67 at her local service station, she said: "We're basically not going anywhere. We're going to get the kids, and besides that we don't go out of the house all week."

Despite widespread concern about fuel costs, Americans are evenly divided about whether it is a good idea to suspend the federal gas tax this summer, as proposed by two presidential candidates, Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.). Forty-six percent of those surveyed supported the proposal; 47 percent opposed it. And when told about criticisms of the plan, which many experts say would do little to change prices while draining revenue away from federal highway projects, support for the idea dipped to 33 percent.

That may be good news for Sen. Barrack Obama (Ill.), who said he would oppose any effort to temporarily do away with the 18 cents-a-gallon federal gasoline taxes. The Democratic presidential hopeful called that a "gimmick."

The idea of a gasoline tax holiday failed to pick up majority support from Democrats, Republicans or independents, and presented with the information about the probable impact of the tax suspension, majorities across the board opposed the idea.

The poll was conducted by telephone May 8 to 11 among a random national sample of 1,122 adults. Results from the full survey have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points; error margins are larger for subgroups.

Polling analyst Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.

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