One year later, public mood shifts

A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows two different Americas – one in September 2001 and the other in September a year later. The differences are striking. Seldom have there been such shifts in the public mood in such a short time.

The headline of the Journal article reporting the results of the poll says, “Economic anxiety trumps war talk,” while the headline of the accompanying graphic speaks of a “different world,” adding: “One year after the Sept. 11 attacks, the public’s priorities have shifted and its confidence has declined.”

The Journal says while the White House and Congress are “awash” in war talk, ordinary Americans cling to a “strikingly different” election-year agenda: boosting the economy and doing more about corporate crime. It calls the divergent attitudes a “mismatch” that offers the Democrats an opportunity to turn domestic issues into the defining issues of this year’s election and, with that, the possibility of making significant gains in the battle for control of Congress. But, its authors say, the outcome is still up for grabs with the GOP holding a narrow 37 percent-35 percent plurality in a situation where 42 percent of those questioned say “it is time to give a new person a chance” when it comes to Congressional elections.

In making their year-to-year comparisons, the Journal divided responses into three general categories:

The first was whether or not the country was headed in the right direction: In 2001, 72 percent said “yes,” with only 11 percent saying “no.” By 2002, the numbers had shifted dramatically, with 42 percent saying “yes” and 42 percent answering in the negative – a 30-point drop.

Although the drop in Bush’s popularity was not as dramatic (82 percent in 2001; 64 percent this year), an 18-point decline is still significant and represents a continued downhill slide.

The Journal also asked for respondents to list their priorities. The shift was the greatest on the general issue of “fighting terrorism,” with those making it their number one priority falling from 64 percent in 2001 to 30 percent this year. On the other hand, “strengthening the economy” was the priority issue for 38 percent, nearly twice the 18 percent figure for 2001.

The problem of dealing with health care costs was number one for 18 percent of respondents in the 2002 poll, up from 6 percent a year earlier.

Thirteen percent of those polled put “strengthening education” at the top of their 2002 list, up significantly from 7 percent a year ago.

The author can be reached at fgab708@aol.com