By CONNIE CASS, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Confused by President Barack Obama’s health care law? How about the debate over government surveillance? The way the Federal Reserve affects interest rates?
You’re far from alone.
Most people in the United States say the issues facing the country are getting harder to fathom.
It’s not just those tuning out politics who feel perplexed.
People who vote regularly, follow news about November’s election or simply feel a civic duty to stay informed are most likely to say that issues have become “much more complicated” over the past decade, an Associated Press-GfK poll shows.
Karla Lynn of Lavaca, Arkansas, blames politicians who would rather snipe at each other than honestly explain the nation’s problems in straightforward terms.
“They’ll spin everything,” said Lynn, 61, a retired product developer. “You’ve got to wade through so much muck to try to find the truth.”
David Stewart blames the deluge from social media, partisan blogs and 24-hour news sites for complicating things.
At one time people would only see a news story about a violent organization such as the Islamic State group, he said, but now they watch the militants’ videos of beheadings online.
“People get a little overwhelmed by all the information about what’s going on in the world,” said Stewart, 40, a salesman at a home improvement store in Georgetown, Kentucky. The father of three said it takes time from an already busy life to go online and sort out “what’s fluff, what’s been engineered, and what’s actually true and believable.”
The issue that stumps Stewart most? The health care overhaul.
Nearly three-fourths of Americans find it difficult, according to the AP-GfK poll, and about 4 in 10 say it’s very hard to understand.
The law is complex; politicians even say so.
Republicans were condemning it as a regulatory morass even before it passed. When the federal website enrolling people crashed last year, Obama himself pointed to the enormous size of the undertaking. “It’s complicated,” he said. “It’s hard.”
Politicians do try to make issues sound simpler. They like to invoke your own family budget when talking about the national debt.
But in the poll, confidence in dealing with household problems didn’t offer much help in understanding national matters.
For example, most under age 30 said it’s easy to protect your privacy and financial information online. But most young adults think it’s hard to understand the National Security Agency’s data collection programs. Americans older than 50 find both personal computer security and the NSA issue difficult.
Interest rates? Wealthier people are more likely to find rates on personal loans easy to understand. But the poll shows no difference by income in comprehending the Fed’s interest rate policy.
Then there are international issues.
In his speech to the United Nations last week, Obama spoke of terrorists in Iraq and Syria as the type of danger that threatens a faster-paced, interconnected world.
What began 13 years ago as a U.S. campaign to destroy al-Qaida has evolved into battles against numerous offshoots.
“Right now, in my estimation, the problems are much more variegated and much more complex and diffuse than they’ve ever been,” said Bruce Hoffman, a Georgetown University historian who has studied terrorism for four decades.
Among Americans strongly interested in political news, nearly 6 in 10 say political issues facing the United States are “much more complicated” than a decade ago.
Of course, creating Medicare and waging the Cold War weren’t easy.
Perhaps nostalgia blurs people’s judgment of current troubles?
Sheila Suess Kennedy, director of the Indiana University Center for Civic Literacy, thinks there’s more to it.
“Not only are we dealing with a more complex environment, we are dealing with a more ambiguous environment,” Kennedy said. “People want ‘this is good and this is bad.’ Increasingly we live with ‘there’s black and there’s white and there’s a whole lot of gray.’”
The AP-GfK Poll was conducted July 24-28 using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based online panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. Results from online interviews with 1,044 adults have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.
Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods, and later interviewed online. Some question wording used in this survey comes from the General Social Survey, conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were provided with the ability to access the Internet at no cost.
AP Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.
Topline results and methodology: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com
Parents are worried about their children playing football, but most haven’t decided to keep their kids from putting on a helmet and stepping onto the field.
According to an Associated Press-GfK poll, nearly half of parents said they’re not comfortable letting their child play football amid growing uncertainty about the long-term impact of concussions.
In the poll, 44 percent of parents weren’t comfortable with their child playing football. The same percentage was uncomfortable with ice hockey, and 45 percent were uncomfortable with participation in wrestling. Only five percent, though, said they have discouraged their child from playing in the last two years as concern over head injuries has increased at all levels of the game.
The majority of parents said they are comfortable with participation in a host of other sports — including swimming, track and field, basketball, soccer, baseball and softball, among others.
The AP-GfK poll was conducted from July 24-28. It included interviews with 1,044 adults and has a sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.
The parents’ concern comes as several high-profile lawsuits have challenged how concussions have been addressed in pro and college sports. Thousands of pro players sued the NFL and a $675 million settlement that would compensate them for concussion-related claims is pending. A tentative settlement with the NCAA, meanwhile, would create a $70 million fund to test thousands of current and former college athletes for brain trauma.
Youth and high school programs have increased training available for coaches, and helmet companies are releasing new designs with the hope that they reduce the force of impact. But research is murky about whether or not they will be effective.
Participation statistics also show only a slight decline in the overall number of high school students playing football.
According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, nearly 1.1 million students played 11-man football during the 2012-13 school year. The number was down approximately 10,000 from the year before and more than 20,000 since 2009-08.
Cathy Curtin, a high school rifle coach in northeast Pennsylvania, is one parent who has discouraged her children from playing football in recent years.
Curtin, 52, has gone through concussion-related training for her job, but one issue that concerns her is how much of identifying a head injury relies on the student’s input following a collision. She said her 21-year-old son “would have said anything” to remain in the game while in high school, including hiding symptoms such as dizziness from a trainer or coach.
“Our training staff is good, but you can’t always know,” Curtin said. “You’re basing whether they can play on their say. And they are 16-year-old kids, 17-year-old kids who want more than anything to get out there and play.”
Curtin said her younger son broke his collarbone and leg while playing football as a freshman.
“Nowhere in that time did they check him for a concussion,” Curtin said. “So, if he got hit hard enough to break his collar bone and his leg, then how hard did he hit the ground, too?”
Football wasn’t the only sport Curtin said she was uncomfortable with. She also worries about hockey, wrestling and other high-impact competitions such as gymnastics and cheerleading. She’s encouraged by new advances — such as chin straps that change color when a player may have suffered a concussion — aimed at reducing and identifying head injuries, but she is also skeptical about school districts’ ability to afford new helmets.
JeMare Williams, 43, is no stranger to the possibility of getting a concussion while playing football. He thinks he “probably” suffered from one while in high school in St. Louis.
“I don’t really know, but I remember being hurt, being dizzy,” Williams said. “But during that time, there wasn’t a specific diagnosis like now.”
Now living in Henderson, Nevada, and with 17- and 11-year-old sons who play the game, Williams — an auto mechanic — has the same injury concerns as many parents. That said, he’s comfortable with his sons playing football — or any other sport they choose.
One of the primary reasons for Williams’ comfort level is because of the increased attention paid to head injuries over the last few years. He said coaches are trained more closely now to teach proper tackling techniques, as well as watch players for signs of concussions.
“There’s a lot of publicity on (concussions) now, and I think that makes it better,” Williams said. “So, I’m not as worried now.”
By JENNIFER AGIESTA, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress has checked out, and the American people have noticed.
Three-quarters of Americans doubt the federal government will address the important problems facing the country this year, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll.
All told, only 28 percent of Americans think the nation is heading in the right direction, the lowest level in August of an election year since 2008. It’s about on par with 2006, when Democrats took control of the U.S. House amid a backlash to the Iraq war.
This time around, it’s not clear whether either party will benefit from the disaffection.
One-third say they hope the Republicans take control of Congress outright this fall — which the GOP can accomplish with a net gain of six seats in the U.S. Senate while holding the U.S. House. The same share want to see Democrats lead Congress — a far less likely possibility.
The final third? They say it just doesn’t matter who takes control of Congress.
Overall, just 13 percent of Americans approve of the way Congress overall is handling its job.
There are some signs in the new poll that Republicans have gained ground as the height of the campaign approaches. In May, they trailed Democrats a bit on who ought to control Congress. Partisans are about equally likely to say they’d like to see their own in charge of Congress after November 4, with about three-quarters in each party saying they hope their side winds up in control. Democrats are a bit less apt to say they want their own party to win than they were in May, 74 percent in the new poll compared with 80 percent then.
And the GOP now holds narrow advantages over Democrats on handling an array of top issues, including the economy, immigration and the federal budget.
But neither party is trusted much to manage the federal government, with 27 percent having faith in the GOP to 24 percent in Democrats. More people, 31 percent, say they trust neither party to run the federal government.
Fewer people have confidence in the federal government’s ability to make progress on the important problems and issues facing the country in 2014 than at the start of the year, with 74 percent saying they have little or no confidence. That’s a slight change from the 70 percent who said so in a December AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey. That shift in confidence stems from a small drop-off among Democrats. While 56 percent lacked confidence in December, 62 percent say the same now.
Overall, few express faith in those currently on Capitol Hill. Just 36 percent say they’d like to see their own member of Congress re-elected, 62 percent say they want someone else to win this November. So far, just three House incumbents have been ousted in primaries this year, and none in the Senate. The Congressional approval rating, 13 percent in the new poll, lags behind President Barack Obama’s 40 percent.
Though the economy pushed the nation’s “right direction” figures to historic lows in the fall of 2008, that does not seem to be the culprit in the new poll. About a third (35 percent) say the economy is in good shape, about the same as in May, and 58 percent say the economy has stayed about the same in the past month.
The decline in optimism about the country’s path in the new poll seems to mirror those in October 2013 and August 2011, when congressional inaction led to the threat of a government shutdown in 2011 and a partial one in 2013. Among Democrats, the share saying the nation is heading in the right direction dipped 11 points since May, to 49 percent, while among independents, it’s down slightly to 23 percent. Among Republicans, the 9 percent saying the country is heading the right way is similar to May. The October 2013 and August 2011 declines in right direction were also driven by sharp drops among Democrats and independents.
Among those who say they are highly likely to vote this fall, just 8 percent say they approve of the way Congress is handling its job, though 43 percent would like to see their member of Congress re-elected, a bit higher than among all adults. Republicans have an edge among this group as the party more preferred to control Congress, 43 percent to 34 percent, with 23 percent saying it doesn’t matter.
The AP-GfK Poll was conducted July 24-28, 2014, using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based online panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,044 adults and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points for all respondents. It is larger for subgroups.
Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods and were later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were provided with the ability to access the Internet at no cost to them.
Follow Jennifer Agiesta on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/JennAgiesta
AP-GfK Poll: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com
By JOAN LOWY and JENNIFER AGIESTA, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Small wonder Congress has kept federal highway and transit programs teetering on the edge of insolvency for years, unable to find a politically acceptable long-term source of funds. The public can’t make up its mind on how to pay for them either.
Six in 10 Americans think the economic benefits of good highways, railroads and airports outweigh the cost to taxpayers. Yet there is scant support for some of the most frequently discussed options for paying for construction of new roads or the upkeep of existing ones, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll.
Among those who drive places multiple times per week, 62 percent say the benefits outweigh the costs. Among those who drive less than once a week or not at all, 55 percent say the costs of road improvement are worthwhile.
Yet a majority of all Americans — 58 percent — oppose raising federal gasoline taxes to fund transportation projects such as the repair, replacement or expansion of roads and bridges. Only 14 percent support an increase. And by a better than 2-to-1 margin, Americans oppose having private companies pay for construction of new roads and bridges in exchange for the right to charge tolls. Moving to a usage tax based on how many miles a vehicle drives also draws more opposition than support — 40 percent oppose it, while 20 percent support it.
Support for shifting more responsibility for paying for such projects to state and local government is a tepid 30 percent.
“Congress is actually reflecting what people want,” said Joshua Schank, president and CEO of the Eno Center for Transportation, a transportation think tank. “People want to have a federal (transportation) program and they don’t want to pay for it.”
Last week, Congress cobbled together $10.8 billion to keep transportation aid flowing to states by changing how employers fund worker pension programs, extending customs user fees and transferring money from a fund to repair leaking underground fuel storage tanks. The money was needed to make up a shortfall between aid promised to states and revenue raised by the federal 18.4 cents-per-gallon gas tax and the 24.4 cents-per-gallon diesel tax, which haven’t been increased in more than 20 years.
It’s the fifth time in the last six years that Congress has patched a hole in the federal Highway Trust Fund that pays for highway and transit aid. Each time it gets more difficult for lawmakers to find the money without increasing the federal budget deficit. Critics described the pension funding changes used this time as budget gimmicks that would cost the government more in the long run and undermine employee pension programs.
The latest patch cleared Congress about three hours before midnight last Thursday, the day before the Transportation Department said it would begin cutting back aid payments to states. The current fix is only expected to cover the revenue gap through next May, when Congress will be back where it started unless lawmakers act sooner.
The most direct solution would be to raise fuel taxes. That’s what three blue-ribbon federal commissions have recommended. But opposition to a gas tax increase cuts across party lines, although Republicans are more apt to oppose an increase, 70 percent, than Democrats, 52 percent.
“Every time we turn around there’s another tax, and our gas taxes are so high now,” said James Lane, 52, of Henry County in rural south-central Virginia, who described himself as leaning toward the GOP.
Lane favors allowing companies to pay for the construction of new or expanded roads and bridges in exchange for the right impose tolls on motorists, often for many decades. There have been projects like that in Virginia, but since those roads are in more populated areas of the state where he doesn’t drive it makes sense to have the people who use them pay for them, he said.
But Michael Murphy, 63, a data services contractor who lives near San Antonio, Texas, where a high-speed public-private toll road is scheduled to open this fall, said he’d rather see gas taxes increased than tolls imposed on drivers. Roads benefit everyone, even if indirectly, so it’s only fair that everyone who drives pays something toward their cost, he said.
A majority of those surveyed, 56 percent, say traffic in the area where they live has gotten worse in the last five years. Only 6 percent say traffic has improved in their area, and 33 percent that it’s stayed about the same.
The AP-GfK Poll was conducted July 24-28 using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based online panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,044 adults. It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points for all respondents, larger for subgroups.
Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods, and were later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were provided with the ability to access the Internet at no cost to them.
AP-GfK Poll: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com
Follow Joan Lowy on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/AP_Joan_Lowy