WASHINGTON Deepening worries about the economy and their personal finances put Americans in a sour mood this month, with more voters fearing a recession, according to a Reuters/Zogby poll released on Wednesday.
The Reuters/Zogby index, which measures the mood of the country, fell from 97.3 to 94.2, its lowest number since polling began in July.
Approval ratings for President George W. Bush held steady at a low 31 percent in January, and positive ratings for the Congress inched up slightly from 13 percent to a still miserable 14 percent.
But heightening concerns about personal finances, job security, the direction of the country and a possible recession sent Americans into a post-holiday tailspin.
The poll found 48 percent of Americans expect a recession in the next year, up from 43 percent last month, and a growing majority of more than two-thirds think the United States is headed in the wrong direction.
"Voters are in a funk about the economy," pollster John Zogby said. "There is absolutely no question the economy is really weighing on people's minds."
The poll was taken on Thursday and Friday, a week after the government reported a jump in unemployment to 5 percent in December, the highest in two years.
Plunging stock markets, a housing crisis and high gas prices also contributed to the gloomy economic outlook, with a growing chorus of analysts predicting a recession.
"People hear about the impending recession every day, they see the sinking stock market and they look at their credit card bills for Christmas -- you don't need much more to get you worried," Zogby said.
Six of the 10 measures of public opinion used in the index saw at least small drops in the last month, with two others rising slightly and two staying essentially the same.
The number of Americans who felt very safe in their job fell five points in a month, from 48 percent to 43 percent, and the number who are very confident their children will have a better job dropped from 31 percent to 27 percent.
A shrinking majority of Americans, 52 percent, rate their personal finances as good, down from 55 percent.
About two-thirds of Americans still say they are very proud of their country, down from 70 percent, and the number who said they felt very safe from foreign threats fell from 35 percent to 30 percent.
The survey found barely more than one in five gave Bush's administration high marks for foreign and economic policy.
"Voters have a big cloud over their heads right now," Zogby said.
The Index combines responses to 10 questions on Americans' views about their leaders, the direction of the country and their future. Index polling began in July, and that month's results provide the benchmark score of 100.
A score above 100 indicates the public mood has improved since July. A dropping score below 100, like the one this month, shows the mood has soured since last month and is worse than in July.
The RZI is released the third Wednesday of each month.
The telephone poll of 1,006 likely voters had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)