Just as important, the country's menu of priority issues appears to be changing, with the economy growing as a concern and the Iraq war declining somewhat. The latest Washington Post/ABC News poll finds that 44 percent of voters say the economy and jobs will be the single most important issue in their choice for president, up from 29 percent in November. Iraq, where the U.S. military has been making gains, has dropped to 37 percent from 45 percent in the same period. If the economy turns sour, this trend could accelerate. And the shift could be bad news for the GOP, since voters tend to blame the incumbent president and his party for downturns.
Overall, 7 out of 10 Americans are dissatisfied with the direction of the country, a finding that has remained steady for many months. This supports the conclusion that Americans are eager for something new in Washington and will vote for a change in the status quo next year.
Economic worries. But perhaps the most intriguing question is exactly what the country wants from the next president. "The country is doing pretty well but is suffering a remarkable degree of anxiety," says Al From, founder of the centrist Democratic Leadership Council and a former adviser to Bill Clinton. Americans, polls show, are worried about the possibility of a recession, about the affordability and accessibility of healthcare, the mortgage crisis, and other issues, even if their personal situations seem to be going relatively well. "There's going to be a premium on problem solving," says From.
But other Americans prefer a president who doesn't waver on principle and doesn't compromise too much. "Many voters want someone who will stand up for them," says a former adviser to a Republican president. Of course, this could be a recipe for more stalemate and confrontation in the capital.
Fortunately, the murky political situation should be quite a bit clearer in the next month. Once the votes are counted in Iowa and New Hampshire, the unpredictable campaign of 2008 will begin to sort itself out.