WASHINGTON -- A majority of Americans in a poll say they feel hopeful about President Bush's second term, but those hopes are clouded by doubts about when the bloodshed in Iraq will end.
People say Iraq should be the president's highest priority, according to an Associated Press poll that indicated that those surveyed are not optimistic a stable government will take hold there.
After winning reelection, Bush is preparing to pursue an agenda that includes efforts to change Social Security, federal tax laws, and medical malpractice awards.
Before Bush's inauguration Thursday, six in 10 people polled said they feel hopeful about his second term and 47 percent said they were worried. Most said they were neither angry nor excited about his final four years in office.
Iraq was cited most often as the president's highest priority, according to the poll, conducted by Ipsos-Public Affairs. Some 53 percent of those questioned said it is unlikely that Iraq will have a stable government.
''Iraq remains the kind of thing that could completely take over the term if the situation gets a lot worse," said Charles Franklin, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. ''It's a good idea for the president to push new domestic proposals. He has to find a way to have the whole second term be about more than just Iraq."
More than 1,350 US troops have died in Iraq. Deadly attacks by insurgents have increased as the Jan. 30 elections near.
Half of those questioned in the poll said relations with other countries are worse than they were four years ago, while four in 10 said they are the same. One-quarter of Republicans said relations with other countries are worse.
Bush's domestic wish list -- with its focus on allowing private accounts in Social Security for younger Americans, limiting lawsuit awards, and overhauling the tax laws -- could gain momentum from the increased GOP majorities in the House and Senate. But Republican lawmakers are showing a willingness to challenge Bush's proposals.
Close behind Iraq in public concerns for Bush's second term is the economy, which moved past terrorism as a top concern in AP polls the past two months. Social Security was named as a top issue by only 9 percent, taxes by 2 percent.
After picking up in 2004, the economy probably will slow this year, influenced by rising interest rates, higher energy costs, and the lack of a new tax cut, economists say.
People were relatively optimistic about their own finances in the next year. Four in 10 said they expect their own situation to improve, and a similar number said they expect it will stay the same the same, according to the poll of 1,000 adults that was taken Jan. 10-12. It had a margin of sampling error of 3 percentage points.
Public perceptions of the president's personal strengths are his biggest asset today.
Almost two-thirds of those polled described Bush as likable, strong, and intelligent. A majority said he is dependable and honest.