By Jon Cohen
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 21, 2011; 2:52 PM
Barely more than a third of all Americans rate the country's ability to compete economically in positive terms, according to a new Washington Post poll.
A narrow majority of those polled - 51 percent - say it is important for the United States to be No. 1 in the global economy, but fewer voters now say the country is prepared for foreign economic rivalry than said so 20 years ago.
Overall, just 36 percent say the country's capacity to deal with global economic competition is "excellent" or "good." Among registered voters, the percentage rating the country's ability in positive terms has slipped six points since a poll in the fall of 1991.
In the new poll, a similar 35 percent of all Americans say "just fair" when asked about the country's capacity to meet economic challenges from abroad. Nearly three in 10 - 28 percent - say U.S. ability to face the competition is "not so good" or downright "poor."
The slight slip in public assessments since 1991 comes as sentiment about the importance of being the world's top economic power has increased. Compared with 20 years ago, the number of voters saying that being the world's top economic power is an important goal is up eight percentage points.
Fully 60 percent of Republicans now say being the top global economy is a crucial goal for the United States, as do a slender majority of Democrats, 52 percent. Independents divide down the middle on the question, with 48 percent saying it is important, 49 percent saying not so.
Rating at 31 percent positive, Republicans are the least apt to give good ratings to the country's competitiveness today. Independents register a close 35 percent positive; Democrats a higher 41 percent.
This Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone Jan. 13 to 17 among a random national sample of 1,000 adults. The margin of sampling error for the full poll is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.