WASHINGTON DC: The US populace has not been reassured by the Bush administration's pledge to steer the country away from the dreaded R-word (which the President pointedly avoided during his State of the Union address).

According to a new poll, more than eight in ten people describe the nation's economy as "not so good" or "poor” and nearly 60% believe the R-word is already here.

The survey, carried out by the Washington Post and TV's ABC News, reveals that 39% of Americans believe jobs and the financial downturn are the top priority in this presidential election year, pushing Iraq from the top of the agenda.

The Labor Department has added to growing discomfort by announcing a net loss of jobs within the economy in January - the first time in 53 months.

Bush's plans to refloat the creaking financial ship include a $146 billion (€98.5bn; £73.8bn) cash injection via payments direct from the government to individuals and families; plus tax incentives for businesses to invest in plant and equipment.

However, the poll shows just three in 10 of those surveyed think these measures will have the desired effect. The other two thirds doubt they will work.

Voters are evenly split over longer-term prospects, with half saying the US is in decline, while the other half believes economic fundamentals are basically solid. Two-thirds are optimistic about what the next 12 months have in store for them and their families.

Data sourced from Washington Post Online; additional information by WARC staff