People are skeptical about the economy despite recent encouraging signs and are worried about the costs of gas, heating oil and healthcare, a study shows.
Views of the economy show sharp partisan differences, with Republicans far more likely to be optimistic than either Democrats or independents, according to the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.
"There's not as much economic optimism as might be warranted by hard economic indicators," Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center, said Tuesday. "I was surprised by the growing gap between the way Republicans and the rest of the public see the national economy."
About a third, 34%, said economic conditions were excellent or good, while 64% said only fair or poor. That's up slightly from the 25% who said in October that economic conditions were excellent or good, but down slightly from the 39% who felt that way right after Bush was reelected.
The economy turned in a solid performance in 2005 despite devastating hurricanes and high energy prices. Employers added 2 million jobs last year, and the unemployment rate fell to 4.9% in December.
Economists believe that growth will slow slightly this year because of still-high energy costs and rising interest rates. Higher mortgage rates are expected to cool off the housing market, which has been a major source of strength.
President Bush's spokesman Scott McClellan cited recent good news in the economy, including positive employment results in December in most states. "We've seen 4.6 million new jobs created since May of '03, 400,000 new jobs created in the last two months," he said.
More than half of Republicans, 56%, in the poll said economic conditions were excellent or good; 28% of independents and 23% of Democrats felt that way. Those views may be influenced by how Democrats and independents perceive the intent of Bush's economic agenda, Kohut said. Some critics say Bush's policies are more beneficial to the wealthy and to big business.
When asked recently about their leading economic concerns, 8 in 10 cite gas prices as a big problem, with 43% saying gas prices were a "very big" problem. About the same number see the cost of home heating fuel and healthcare as a big problem.
The poll of 1,503 adults was conducted Jan. 4-8 and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.