Americans anxious about 2003

Poll shows people worried about tax cuts, their own spending, war with Iraq

Posted: Thursday, January 02, 2003

WASHINGTON -- Nearly two-thirds of respondents in an Associated Press poll said they believe it's prudent to hold off on more tax cuts.

They also said they feel more cautious about their own spending, while expressing some optimism about their financial future.

When asked about new tax cuts, a centerpiece of President Bush's domestic agenda, 64 percent said it was better to hold off to make sure the federal budget does not go into a deeper into the red. About three in 10, 28 percent, said they favored additional tax cuts to stimulate the economy, according to the poll conducted for the AP by ICR/International Communications Research of Media, Pa.

On the international front, the poll found people wary of a war with Iraq and much more likely to view Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaida network as threats than Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Those anxieties were voiced by Joanne Arriola, a 62-year-old retiree from a utility company in Butte, Mont. She's seen her retirement fund reduced sharply by the troubled economy and worries about the effects of a war in Iraq, and is convinced that war will return to America.

''It's a scary new year,'' she said. ''My children are too old to go (to war), but a lot of young people aren't.

''When the war starts, it will start here too. I think that once we're in the war, we're going to see something on our soil.''

Two-thirds said they were worried that war with Iraq would increase chances of a terror attack in the United States, according to the poll.

On economics, more than half of Republicans said it would be better to hold off on tax cuts to avoid deeper deficits. The White House is putting together tax cuts that could total $300 billion. It would feature lower taxes on shareholders' dividends, accelerate the 2001 tax cuts for all but the wealthiest Americans and provide new depreciation breaks for businesses.

''My husband and I decided to pay off all our debts,'' said Julia Kerner, 37, a pharmacy technician from Frederick, Md., ''and I think it's better for the government to wait on more tax cuts. They are a quick fix, but they start undermining the income coming in to support this or that program.''

Almost half, 44 percent, said they expect their family's financial situation will be better a year from now. That's a more optimistic view of the future than a year ago, when a third felt that way. The poll of 1,008 adults was taken Dec. 13-17 and had an error margin of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Republicans were more optimistic than Democrats, and young adults were significantly more optimistic than older people.

But if many people are expecting the economy to improve, they're also watching their spending more carefully. In the poll, 44 percent said they were now more cautious about what they spend than they had been, while half have not changed spending habits. That's up from 30 percent who said they were cautious about spending in the spring of 2000, before the nation's economic bubble began to deflate.

Women had a more cautious outlook than men, blacks more cautious than whites.

The economic uneasiness was evident even though public support for President Bush remains strong in polls generally, especially his performance on fighting terrorists. Bush already has given the go-ahead to double the 50,000 U.S. troop deployment in the Persian Gulf region in early January for possible war with Iraq, according to administration officials.

Women were more likely than men, 40 percent to 26 percent, to say they worry a great deal about the increased threat of attacks in case of war.

By 2-to-1, people said they saw bin Laden as more of a threat than Iraq and Saddam. People were more inclined to see al-Qaida as a threat by about 2-to-1, no matter their age, sex, income level or race.

''Those in al-Qaida are the ones who brought terrorism to the forefront,'' pharmacy technician Kerner said.

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