The latest Associated Press-Yahoo News poll, published just days before the Iowa and New Hampshire presidential races, shows Americans more concerned about health care and the economy than the Iraq War. US presidential politics in 2008 may turn into a classic race between guns and butter.

For the next president, addressing health care is Job 1: 53% of Americans say that health care is “extremely important,” a positive swing of the pendulum of 5 points since the question was asked the previous month in November 2007.

On health care and the economy, Democrats are more trusted than Republicans: on health care, 41% of Americans trust Democrats more, compared to 17% who trust Republicans. On the economy, 34% trust Democrats, and 22%, Republicans.

Two-thirds of Americans polled believe that the U.S. should adopt universal health insurance; 54% support a single-payer plan run by the government and financed by taxpayers.

Health Populi’s Hot Points: At the start of 2008, kitchen-table issues of health and the general economy are front-burner for Americans. Are we in the midst of “the economy, stupid,” version 2? Two key concerns are on voters’ minds: the cost of health care and concerns about coverage; and, the impact of the sub-prime mortgage crisis on middle Americans and the value of their homes. The issues of Iraq and terrorism loom high but not as prominent as the “butter” issues — even gas prices rate higher on voters’ minds for the moment. Note that the AP-Yahoo poll was completed one week before the tragic assassination of Benazir Bhutto, which some pundits believe could bolster the “guns” side of the “guns vs. butter” political metric. That issue plays well for Republicans, especially for Rudolph Giuliani (whose latest ads use images of 9/11). On the Democratic side, as of early Jan ’08, Hillary Clinton is seen as the most competent on defense issues. But for now, “butter” is the flavor for the election. Health Populi will continue to gauge health politics throughout 2008 as we approach the November election.