Recession Worries Giving Boost to Democrats: Poll

John Harwood, |Chief Washington Correspondent

Eight in 10 Americans believe the U.S. economy is now in recession, fueling unhappiness with President Bush and boosting Democratic hopes in the presidential race despite the party's divisive primary.

A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey shows a substantial increase in dissatisfaction with economic conditions in recent months. Fully 73 percent of Americans now disapprove of President Bush's handling of the economy, as his overall approval fell to 27 percent from 32 percent in March.

That represents a burden to Republican candidate John McCain. With poll respondents rating jobs as the top issue, some 61 percent of Americans say they have "major" or "moderate" concerns that McCain will be too closely aligned with Bush's agenda. That exceeds the half of Americans who express concerns over whether Barack Obama is out of touch with small-town values. A comparable 62 percent of Americans say they have concerns about figuring out where Hillary Clinton stands on the issues.

The telephone survey of 1,107 registered voters, conducted April 25-28, shows that Obama and Clinton have both been damaged by their contentious fight for the nomination in recent weeks. Some 38 percent of Americans say they've read or heard something that makes them feel less favorable to Clinton in recent weeks; 37 percent say that about Obama. Just 24 percent say that about McCain, who has received less attention after locking up the GOP nomination.

In potential general election matchups, Obama leads McCain by 46 percent to 43 percent, comparable to his showing since March. Clinton leads McCain 45 percent to 44 percent. The edges for both Democrats are within the poll's 3.1 percentage point margin for error.

In the Democratic primary fight, Obama leads Clinton for the first time in the NBC/WSJ poll, 46 percent to 43 percent—also within the poll's margin for error. In March, the two were deadlocked at 45 percent to 45 percent. The primary findings suggest that, so far at least, the controversies over his former pastor Jeremiah Wright and his remarks about "bitter" small town voters haven't significantly harmed his national standing.