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OUR ECONOMIC 6TH SENSE: GLOOMY

Most of us think we're in or near a recession.

Americans are feeling decidedly sour about the economy and those in charge of it, fueling Democratic efforts to target business interests in the 2008 election campaign.

More than two-thirds of Americans believe the U.S. economy is either in recession now or will be in the next year, a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll shows. That assessment comes despite the fact the economy has experienced sustained growth with low inflation and unemployment and generally rising stock values ever since the recession that ended early in President Bush's tenure.

In addition, the poll shows a lack of confidence in economic leaders. That includes not just Bush and Congress, both of whom have the approval of fewer than one-third of all Americans, but the financial industry, large corporations in general, and energy, drug and insurance companies in particular.

Some other measures of Americans' economic attitudes, such as the Conference Board's consumer-confidence measure, have risen lately, and the Journal/NBC poll reflected some mixed feelings about the economy. Yet growth in consumer spending has slowed, and concerns about health costs, job security and the gap between the rich and poor have left Americans downbeat about the road ahead.

"They're ambivalent about the current economy but pessimistic about the future," said Republican pollster Neil Newhouse, who conducts the Journal/NBC survey with Democratic counterpart Peter Hart. One consequence is anger at leading economic actors, who respondents believe are failing to protect ordinary Americans' interests.

"There's a combination of anxiety and loathing," Hart said. "There's a sense that every single one of these institutions is totally out for their own betterment, versus the public they serve."

FAST FACTS

Poll highlights

- More than two-thirds of Americans believe the U.S. economy is either in recession now or will be in the next year.

- Just 16 percent expressed substantial confidence in the financial industry, slightly below those expressing confidence in the energy or pharmaceutical industries.

- Large corporations (11 percent) and health-insurance companies in particular (10 percent) fared even worse.

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