Sales at U.S. retailers likely rose at their fastest pace in more than three and a half years in August, fueled by cash incentives to buy autos and by higher gasoline prices, according to a Reuters poll.

The survey of 68 economist forecast overall sales rose 2.0 percent month-on-month, which would be the biggest gain since January 2006, after dipping 0.1 percent in July.

Analysts said much of the boost to August retail sales would probably come from the government's cash for clunkers program which lifted demand for vehicles.

Excluding autos, retail sales likely rose 0.4 percent in August after slipping 0.6 percent the previous month, the survey showed. Such an outcome would add to growing evidence the economy was emerging from its worst recession in 70 years.

(Reporting by Lucia Mutikani; Editing by James Dalgleish)