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American citizens say US in right direction

FOR the first time in years, more Americans than not say the United States is headed in the right direction, a sign that Barack Obama has used the first 100 days of his presidency to lift the public's mood and inspire hopes for a brighter future.

Intensely worried about their personal finances and medical expenses, Americans nonetheless appear realistic about the time Obama might need to turn things around, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll. It shows most Americans consider their new president to be a strong, ethical and empathetic leader who is working to change Washington.

Nobody knows how long the honeymoon will last but Obama has clearly transformed the "Yes, we can" spirit of his candidacy into a tool of governance.

His ability to inspire confidence - Obama's second book is titled "The Audacity of Hope" - has thus far buffered the president against the harsh political realities of two wars, a global economic meltdown and countless domestic challenges.

"He presents a very positive outlook," said Cheryl Wetherington, 35, an independent voter who runs a chocolate shop. "He's very well spoken and very vocal about what direction should be taken."

Other AP-GfK findings could signal trouble for Obama:

While there is evidence people feel more optimistic about the economy, 65 percent said it's difficult for them and their families to get ahead. More than a third know of a family member who recently lost a job.

More than 90 percent of Americans polled consider the economy an important issue, the highest ever in a AP-GfK survey.

Nearly 80 percent believe the rising federal debt will hurt future generations and Obama is getting mixed reviews at best for his handling of the issue.

And yet, the percentage of Americans saying the country is headed in the right direction rose to 48 percent, up from 40 percent in February. Forty-four percent say the nation is on the wrong track.

Not since January 2004, shortly after the capture of Saddam Hussein, has an AP survey found more "right direction" than "wrong direction" respondents. The burst of optimism didn't last long in 2004.

And it doesn't happen much.

Other than that blip five years ago, pessimism has trumped optimism in media polls since shortly after the invasion of Iraq in the spring of 2003.

Since his election Obama has defied the odds by producing a sustained trend toward optimism beginning with his inauguration.


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