Super worried about the economy

As Super Bowl Sunday segues into Super Tuesday, Americans' thoughts move from losing yardage on the field to losing ground financially.

Today's poll by the Washington Post-ABC News reveals that voters' thoughts are clearly on the economy, stupid, as well as the job market: A whopping 39% cite this as the No. 1 issue in the presidential campaign. That's up 10 percentage points in the past three weeks. (A mere five months ago, only 11% of those surveyed cited the economy as job no. 1; the majority --35% -- were still focused on the war in Iraq.)

The percentage of Americans who think we're in a recession has shot up markedly since mid-January, from 39 to 59%. A paltry 19% of those polled this month rate the economy as "excellent" or "good." The last time the economy's poll numbers were so low was in 1993. When the Post queried voters before the last midterm elections in 2006, 55% gave the national economy the thumbs-up.

Surges aside, 52% of Democrats polled by the Post say they'd trust Hillary Clinton most to handle the country's economic issues, while 38% went for Obama. McCain got the nod among Republicans with 43% over Mitt Romney's 29%.

In the midst of choosing who will (hopefully) lead America back into the black, consumers are voting with their wallets -- notably by keeping them closed when it comes to big-ticket items. Last month's consumer sentiment survey by the University of Michigan and Reuters revealed that more people will be hanging onto their old rides, as recession worries have put the kibosh on their car-buying plans. And homeowners continue to feel the pinch in their property values: For the first time in the nearly two decades that the survey has posed the question, more homeowners reported that the value of their home had dropped than reported it had increased.

Respondents also reported losses on their stock market investments which, coupled with rising food, gas and heating costs, has made them wary about spending too much on the finer, if less necessary, things in life.

Half of all consumers surveyed expected the unemployment rate to rise in 2008, twice the percentage of those polled a year ago. This tracks with the latest data from the U.S. Department of Labor, which shows that nonfarm payrolls fell by an estimated 17,000 in January. That's a lot of baggage for Americans to be carrying into the voting booth.
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