MILWAUKEE (Reuters) - Growing confidence in the future and slightly warmer views of President George W. Bush and Congress put Americans in a better mood this month, according to a Reuters/Zogby poll released on Wednesday.
The Reuters/Zogby Index, which measures the mood of the country, rose sharply to 99.3 in February from last month’s 94.2, putting it at the highest level since August.
Approval ratings for Bush climbed to 34 percent from 31 percent last month, and positive ratings for Congress inched up from 14 percent to a still-low 17 percent.
Concerns about personal finances, job security, safety and the direction of the country all eased at least slightly in the last month, brightening the outlook for Americans who had slipped into a funk around the holidays.
There were some dark clouds. For the first time, a majority of Americans, 54 percent, expect a recession in the next year, up from last month’s 48 percent, as a housing downturn and credit crunch take their toll.
Despite worries about a recession, the number of Americans who think the country is on the wrong track shrank to a still-high 62 percent, down from 68 percent.
“People are adjusting their expectations. They see a recession coming but they still feel better about their future,” pollster John Zogby said.
The mood swing followed a month in which Bush and Congress worked together to approve a package of measures designed to give a short-term boost to the economy, while U.S. deaths from the war in Iraq continued to fade from the headlines.
The intense interest in the U.S. presidential race as voting began across the United States, with compelling races in both political parties capturing public attention, turned the debate from the present, Zogby said.
“The focus now is on the future. There is going to be a new president and a new Congress and people feel good about that,” he said.
Eight of the 10 measures of public opinion used in the Index rose, with one dropping slightly and one staying the same.
The number of Americans who feel very secure in their jobs jumped 7 points in a month, to 50 percent from 43 percent, and the number who gave positive marks to their personal financial situations climbed to 56 percent from 52 percent.
Positive marks for the Bush administration’s foreign policy climbed 5 points to 28 percent from 23 percent, but approval ratings for economic policy stayed exactly the same at a low 22 percent.
More Americans feel very safe from foreign threats and more are fairly or very proud of the United States, but the number of Americans confident their children will have a better life fell slightly to 64 percent.
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 score below 100, like the one this month, shows the mood has soured since July.
The RZI is released on the third Wednesday of each month.
The telephone poll of 1,105 likely voters, taken Wednesday through Saturday, had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
Editing by David Wiessler