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U.S. News

Gloomy Americans adjust to economy: Reuters poll

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Americans remain gloomy about the future but feel marginally better this month as they adjust to high gas prices and a faltering economy, according to a Reuters/Zogby poll released on Wednesday.

Shoppers manoeuvre their way through the aisle at Costco Warehouse in Arlington, Virginia, May 29, 2008. REUTERS/Molly Riley

The Reuters/Zogby Index, which measures the mood of the country, climbed slightly to 90.4 from 87.9 in May as five of the 10 measures of public opinion used in the index rose and three remained steady.

Optimism about personal finances and the future, and approval ratings for U.S. President George W. Bush and the administration’s economic and foreign policies all gained slightly in the last month.

But much of the improvement can be attributed to a readjustment of expectations rather than a boost in personal fortunes, pollster John Zogby said.

“People are settling in to the idea that these are tough times,” Zogby said. “They are hunkering down.”

The index is still down nearly 10 points from its July 2007 benchmark score of 100 after nearly a year of public worries about a struggling housing market, rising fuel and food prices, job losses and unstable markets.

“There has been a pretty significant downturn in public perception over the last year,” Zogby said. “The major damage has already been done. The overall public mood is still down.”

Most of the gains were statistically insignificant in a poll with a margin of error of 3 percentage points. Bush’s approval rating was 24 percent, up one percentage point from last month’s record low.

Approval ratings for U.S. economic and foreign policy nudged up two points each to a still-low 14 percent and 21 percent, respectively.

The number of Americans who believe the country is on the right track remained at its all-time low in a Zogby poll of 16 percent, and the approval rating for the U.S. Congress remained at its all-time low of 11 percent.

MORE FEEL GOOD ABOUT FINANCES

The biggest gain was in the percentage of Americans who feel good about their personal financial situation, which rose four points to 50 percent from 46 percent in May.

The number of Americans who are confident their children will have a better life climbed from 59 percent to 61 percent, although slightly fewer feel secure in their jobs and safe from foreign threats.

The adjustment to starker economic circumstances could be seen in other questions not included in the index. Nearly four of every 10 Americans surveyed said they were considering changing their vacation plans, and nearly one-third plan to eat out less often.

More than half said they intend to drive less. About 10 percent said they might move closer to work while roughly the same percentage were considering finding a job closer to home.

“People are changing their behavior, they recognize that they have to,” 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 2007, and that month’s results provide the benchmark score of 100.

A score above 100 indicates the public mood has improved since July 2007. 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 1,113 likely voters was taken Thursday through Sunday.

(Editing by Bill Trott)

For more about the U.S. political campaign, visit Reuters "Tales from the Trail: 2008" online at blogs.reuters.com/trail08/

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