john_mccain.jpgWASHINGTON (AP) _ A new poll found that 81 percent of Americans believe the U.S. is headed in the wrong direction _ a measure of dissatisfaction that could weigh heavily against Republican John McCain in his presidential face-off with either Barack Obama or Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Clinton and Obama, locked in a fierce tug-of-war for the Democratic presidential nomination, have argued that a McCain presidency would be little more than an extension of what they say are President George W. Bush's failed economic and Iraq war policies.

The CBS News-New York Times poll, released April 3, found that 81 percent of Americans believe “things have pretty seriously gotten off on the wrong track'' in the United States. That is up from 69 percent a year ago, and 35 percent in early 2002.

The poll comes as Americans worry the country is either headed to or in a recession. The housing and credit crisis has rocked Wall Street, driven up home foreclosures and economic worries now supersede the Iraq war as the dominant issue in the presidential race.

The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points for registered voters and plus or minus 4 points for Democrats. It also showed Obama leading Clinton by 46 percent to 43 percent. Both Democrats have about a 5 percentage point lead over McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee.

A separate Gallup poll showed Obama with a slight lead nationally over Clinton in the Democratic presidential race, at 49 percent to 44 percent. The survey conducted April 1-3 had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Clinton and Obama jumped on an April 4 report that U.S. unemployment figures rose to 5.1 percent in March, slamming McCain's economic expertise and criticizing Bush.

Clinton said in a written statement, “Perhaps this jobs report will also help John McCain recognize that doing nothing is not an economic strategy in times of urgent need.''

In a speech during the previous week, McCain derided government intervention to save and reward banks or small borrowers who behave irresponsibly and offered few immediate alternatives for fixing the country's growing housing crisis.

Obama noted the latest figures show the country has lost more than 200,000 jobs this year.

“What I think this indicates is the degree to which our economy has contracted, is sliding into recession,'' Obama said. He accused Bush of hurting people with an economic policy “in which basically the answer to every problem is tax cuts for the wealthy.''

McCain simply wants to stand on the sidelines and watch the housing crisis unfold, Obama said.

McCain, in turn, said in a written statement that “it is essential to reduce the burdens on businesses and workers by lowering taxes, streamlining regulation, tackling health care costs, opening markets to American goods and helping those workers in need.''

“Today's news also underlines the need to focus on innovation, which grows the economy and creates an urgent need for effective worker retraining,'' McCain added. He said the Democratic proposal would hamper economic growth.

The New York senator is unlikely to catch Obama in pledged delegates.

Pledged delegates are a “misnomer,'' Clinton said. “The whole point is for delegates, however they are chosen, to really ask themselves who would be the best president and who would be our best nominee against Sen. McCain. And I think that process goes all the way to the convention.''

While the Democratic National Committee has no rules requiring pledged delegates won in primaries and caucuses to vote for the candidate, the people who serve as pledged delegates are selected by the campaigns who won them and loyalty is a key qualification.

Obama currently leads in the delegate count, 1,635-1,501, according to The Associated Press. Because of the way Democrats apportion delegates, Clinton is not projected to catch Obama even if she has a strong showing in the remaining 10 contests.

Since neither candidate can win based solely on pledged delegates, the nominee is likely to be chosen by some 800 superdelegates _ elected officials and party insiders free to side with any candidate they choose.

Despite poll numbers showing dissatisfaction with President George W. Bush, the Democrats’ hopes of ending an eight-year Republican legacy in the White House, are far from certain. The Democratic-led Congress has also received low approval ratings. Even so, the party is likely to retain and possibly strengthen its hold in Congress in November as a number of Republican incumbents have said they will not seek re-election.

Meanwhile, Democrats in Michigan decided last week they will not redo their presidential primary. Michigan and Florida have been stripped of their convention delegates for moving up their primaries in defiance of party rules.

Clinton won the Jan. 15 Michigan primary. Obama had pulled his name from the ballot.

Michigan Democrats hope the campaigns can agree on a way to split the state's delegates so they can be seated at the party convention.

Clinton last week released her tax records for the past eight years. She had been under pressure to release her tax returns, especially from Obama. Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton reported $20.4 million in income for 2007 and more than $109 million since 2000.