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War Top Issue Now,
Could Shift By '08

The war in Iraq is dominant issue in the 2008 presidential campaign, with more than a third of Americans citing Iraq as their top issue in considering candidates for the presidency, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

But does this mean it's the issue that will matter most 14 months from now?

Consider last time.

In September 2003 the economy was the focal point of the upcoming campaign, but by the time Election Day rolled around, attention had shifted to terrorism.

In the bipartisan Battleground Poll conducted in September 2003, 42 percent named the "economy," "unemployment" or "jobs" when asked for "the number one problem facing this part of the country today." By comparison, terrorism was cited by just 7 percent.

A Post-ABC News survey around the same time found the "economy" and "creating jobs" atop Americans' list of concerns, with 85 percent citing each as "one of the most" or "very" important in determining votes for president. Terrorism was a top concern for 75 percent, and 71 percent said so about Iraq.

However, as the campaign progressed, terrorism and the war in Iraq gradually overtook the economy in many people's minds as the top concern. All three issues were cited by about one in five voters in public polls leading up to the general election. A Gallup Poll in October 2004 found that Bush had an edge over Kerry on handling terrorism while Kerry had the advantage on the economy. And to voters, national security outweighed the economy.

An October CBS News-New York Times poll asked voters which would matter more in deciding how to vote for President - national security issues or economic issues. More said national security concerns alone were of greater important to their vote, and President Bush won re-election.

Of course, the landscape of issues most important to voters clearly can change. If any are to overtake the war in Iraq, early contenders are health care (cited by 13 percent as the election's single most important issue), the economy (11 percent), terrorism (6 percent), ethics (6 percent) and immigration (5 percent).

--Jennifer Agiesta

By Washington Post editors  |  September 12, 2007; 12:53 PM ET
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Indeed, the "war on terror" seems to have moved up to the forefront again. This is a mixed blessing. It is perhaps the most important issue we face as a nation at the moment but the opportunities for subterfuge on the part of most candidates are enormous. An honest, well-thought out strategy from a candidate would be a breath of fresh air, but I don't see that happening. I see more excuses for partisan pandering. There will be a few chances to make right -- I'm looking forward to the debates, where users get to rank issues for discussion, but this is a glimmer in a dark room. We'll see how it goes.

Posted by: glimpsing | September 12, 2007 6:55 PM | Report abuse

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