WASHINGTON Growing anxiety about their economic prospects and deep unhappiness with President George W. Bush and the U.S. Congress plunged Americans into a dark mood this month, according to a Reuters/Zogby poll released on Wednesday.
The Reuters/Zogby Index, which measures the mood of the country, fell dramatically to 87.9, down from 95.5 in April, as nine of the 10 measures of public opinion used in the Index dropped.
Concerns about the direction of the country and personal finances rose sharply, and dissatisfaction with Bush, Congress and the administration's economic and foreign policy all climbed.
Bush's approval rating fell 4 percentage points to 23 percent, a record low for pollster John Zogby, and positive marks for the U.S. Congress fell 5 points to tie an all-time low at 11 percent.
The number of Americans who believe the country is on the right track fell from 23 percent to an abysmal 16 percent, another record for pessimism, as uncertainty about the economy and rising gas prices fueled growing doubts about the future.
"Bad economic news is settling in and Americans are getting anxiety ridden," Zogby said.
"By any objective standard, when you look at economic indicators, there is no good news for people to read about or hear," he said. "Most economic indicators are pointing downward and Americans are absorbed by that."
Consumer confidence fell to a 28-year low this month as rising prices strained household finances, the economy shed jobs, the housing market struggled and the cost of gasoline rose to $4 a gallon.
The poll found the percentage of Americans who feel good about their personal financial situation this month fell from 53 percent to 46 percent. Zogby said a majority of Americans expect gas prices to eventually hit $5 a gallon.
'AREN'T FEELING VERY HAPPY'
"If nothing else, that alone suggests why Americans aren't feeling very happy right now," he said.
Positive marks for the Bush administration's foreign policy also tumbled, from 24 percent to 19 percent, and approval ratings for economic policy fell from 16 percent to 12 percent.
Slightly fewer Americans feel safe from foreign threats and are proud of the United States, and the number of Americans confident their children will have a better life dropped from 65 percent to 59 percent.
The number of Americans who feel secure in their job essentially remained the same this month, declining slightly from 66 percent to 65 percent, well within the poll's margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
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 1,076 likely voters was taken Thursday through Sunday.
(Editing by Patricia Wilson and Doina Chiacu)
(For more about the U.S. political campaign, visit Reuters "Tales from the Trail: 2008" online at blogs.reuters.com/trail08/)