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Economy, deficit top voter issues ahead of Obama speech: poll

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the Armed Forces Farewell Tribute in honor of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta at Joint Base Myer-Hender
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the Armed Forces Farewell Tribute in honor of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta at Joint Base Myer-Hender

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Americans are eager to hear President Barack Obama address the U.S. economy and federal deficit in his State of the Union speech on Tuesday, with more than half still convinced the nation is in a recession, a poll released on Monday found.

Gun policy and healthcare are also top concerns U.S. voters want the president to discuss in his annual speech to the nation, according to the survey by Quinnipiac University.

Obama, who began his second term last month after winning re-election in November, is expected to use Tuesday night's speech to offer his plan for spurring the tepid economy, including proposals for investments in infrastructure, manufacturing, clean energy and education.

The nationwide poll found 35 percent of U.S. voters said the economy was a top concern, while 20 percent pointed to the federal deficit. It also showed 53 percent said the U.S. economy is still in a recession even though economists have said the downturn that began in late 2007 officially ended in July 2009.

Fifteen percent said the nation's gun policies were a top priority and 12 percent said they were most concerned about healthcare, Quinnipiac found.

Its poll of 1,772 registered voters has a margin of error of 2.3 percentage points.

Obama's speech comes as U.S. lawmakers grapple with the nation's $16 trillion debt and looming across-the-board government spending cuts slated to take effect on March 1.

"Voters trust President Obama more than congressional Republicans on the economy and most other issues, but they are more closely divided on who would do a better job on the deficit and on gun control," Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute, said.

The finding showed 47 percent backed Obama to handle the economy compared to 41 percent who said they trusted congressional Republicans, while 48 percent said they had more trust in Republicans to cut federal spending compared to 39 who backed Obama.

Those polled were more closely split over whether Obama or Republicans could better handle immigration issues, Quinnipiac said.

Two-thirds of respondents said they were likely to watch the speech, with more women than men saying they would tune in, the poll also found.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Philip Barbara)

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