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Why a strong economy is no GOP asset

Republicans have struggled to get credit for low unemployment and steady growth.

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Of all the problems Republicans face heading into the fall political season, one of the most exasperating is the economy.

In many ways, they say, these are the best of times: Unemployment is at 4.7 percent, lower than the averages of the 1970s, '80s, and '90s. The economy is showing strong, consistent growth, without significant inflation. And the stock market is roaring along.

Yet many Americans just aren't impressed. A majority tell pollsters they trust the Demo- crats more than the GOP to handle the economy. When asked in an open-ended question which is the most important problem facing the country today, respondents to a recent CBS News poll named "economy/jobs" second after the Iraq war - and ahead of immigration, terrorism, and healthcare.

"First, there's general concern about globalization and its effect on American manufacturing jobs," says GOP pollster Whit Ayres. "We see low unemployment, but the headlines are dominated by the thousands being laid off by General Motors and Ford."

Underlying that, he adds, is concern about healthcare and being able to afford and keep health insurance if something happens to one's job. The latest run-up in gasoline prices also doesn't help the Republican-led government in Washington, even if there's little it can do in the short term about that.

Independent pollster John Zogby sees the public's skepticism over the economy as part of a larger picture of overall concern over the direction of the nation and a president struggling to recapture Americans' confidence. "It's not just the economy," he says. "If we were at peace or the war was going well or there was confidence in other areas, then the economic news could be bolstered and people could begin to feel better."

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