By CALVIN WOODWARD and ANN SANNER, Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — He’s 30, between jobs, with $50,000 in student debt and no clear sense what the future holds. But Erik Santamaria, Ohio-born son of Salvadorans, has a pretty awesome attitude about his country, his life and the world of possibilities.

“Maybe things won’t work out the way I want,” he says. “But, boy, I sure can’t complain about how things have worked out so far.”

This is the sweet spot of American optimism, a trait that looms large in the nation’s history and imagination. To find it these days, talk to an immigrant, the child of one or, failing that, a young person of any background. That’s where the torch seems most likely to burn brightly.

With anyone else, it’s hit or miss.

For many, these times are a slog.

That “shining city on a hill” from political mythology looks more like a huffing climb up a field filled with ticks. Public opinion researchers find handwringing at almost every turn, over a glum and nervous decade defined by terrorism, then war, then recession, then paltry economic recovery.

Still, you aren’t seeing pessimism in the season of the political conventions.

 

The Democrats, convening Tuesday in Charlotte, N.C., want to corner the franchise on happier tomorrows, just as the Republicans wanted at their convention this past week. The notion that America’s best days are ahead comes packaged and polished from the stage, cheered by delegates in goofy hats.

But such platitudes probably won’t go far with Marie Holly, 54.

 

On her lunch break in a mall just north of Columbus, Holly recounts a struggle to get by as a temporary floor designer at a department store, making one-third of the salary she once earned at a graphics-design firm that cut hours and wages before she quit in January to freelance. She firmly believes in the American Dream, but in the sense of dreaming it, not grasping it.

“I’m not seeing anything to strive for, I guess,” she said. “I’m settling.”

 

Polls sing the blues:

 

— Nearly two-thirds lack confidence that life for today’s children will be better than it has been for today’s adults, according to an NBC-Wall Street Journal survey in May.

 

— Half of registered voters do not see the U.S. as the shining city on a hill, meaning the example for other countries, though 45 percent do, according to a Fox News poll in June.

 

— In April 2011, a USA Today-Gallup poll found that optimism that the next generation’s lives will be better than parents’ dropped to its lowest level since the question was asked in 1983. Only 42 percent thought so. Before then, majorities always believed their children would have a better life.

 

— In a dramatic drop from the late 1990s and early 2000s, just over one-third were satisfied with the U.S. position in the world in a February Gallup poll, down from at least two-thirds in the months before and after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Younger people, though, typically see a rosier future than older generations. As long as that holds, optimism stays woven in the nation’s fabric.

 

In an August Associated Press-Gfk poll, only about half said it’s likely that today’s youth will have a better standard of living than their parents. But optimism was the greatest among those who have the farthest to climb — those of modest to low income, and the young themselves.

 

In the poll, 55 percent of those earning under $50,000 said it’s likely the next generation will do better; 58 percent of those under 35 expect to have a better life than their parents.

 

So it seems to be with Santamaria. He possesses both the idealism of his recently completed college years and the belief, perhaps stirred by his immigrant parents, that this is a land of options.

 

“Their dream for me would be picking the tallest building out here and making the most money,” he said, sitting on a picnic table outside a downtown Columbus market with friends, and gesturing to the cityscape.

 

Before getting his English literature degree in June, he worked at the Limited Brands in Columbus, where he was responsible for communicating with managers and customs officers to make sure paperwork for overseas Bath & Body Works stores was properly handled.

 

“I know people are really struggling out there,” he says. “But I looked for a few months and I ended up at the world headquarters of the Limited Brands, and I didn’t even have my degree yet. I mean, months. And yeah, they were stressful but when I look back, I mean, a few months and I ended up there and I didn’t even want to be there. I mean that’s unreal. That’s unreal opportunity.”

 

Santamaria left that job and won’t be seeking work at the city’s tallest building, 41 stories housing state employees. He set his sights since growing up in Toledo on “being able to do something you really loved to do,” more than raking in riches.

 

So he is moving to Pittsburgh to set up a nondenominational Christian church on the University of Pittsburgh campus. He won’t be getting paid but hopes to get a foot in the door at a counselor’s office and someday become an academic adviser and preacher.

 

Kayla Ruffin, 17, from Sylvania, Ohio, gives voice, too, to the idea that it’s the young and restless who are sunny side up.

“It’s really hard to get me in a bad mood,” she said during orientation for new students at Ohio State University, where she is a freshman. “I’m usually pretty excited to learn new things and meet new people.”

 

She’s free of the burdens of college debt and likely to stay that way, not typical for many students. “My dad, he has it all figured out,” she said. “He’s been planning my tuition since I was like born. So he’s made it easy for me.”

 

Ruffin will be studying aeronautical engineering and wants to design spaceships. “I just love everything that NASA does.” And if that doesn’t work, she said she’ll tap into the same design skills to make golf clubs.

 

The February Gallup poll found that pessimism about life for the next generation deepened with age. Also, that the poor were more optimistic about tomorrow than the rich.

 

However down Americans get about the country’s direction and what the future might hold, they tend to be more satisfied with their own lives.

 

Carl Adler, 69, is one of those. A retired Lutheran minister, he said his family learned to live on modest means and, with Social Security benefits and his wife’s pension from years of teaching, “I’m wealthier now than I’ve ever been in my life.”

Still, he said, “I think people my age are finding it difficult to be optimistic.”

 

Does he believe the American dream is alive? “Oh boy, I don’t know. I think it will be possible for fewer people.”

“I’m not sure what the American dream is, to be honest, anymore. … It seems like the middle class is disappearing.”

 

This is more than an abstract thought for him. He’s giving part of his retirement income to his son, who is married with two young kids and hasn’t seen a raise in three years at the public college where he works in information technology. His daughter-in-law is in nursing school.

 

Ohio is a battleground state, so the political opinions of people who are out and about in Columbus no doubt matter more to the Barack Obama and Mitt Romney campaigns than voters’ attitudes in the most dependable Democratic and Republican states.

 

But do people here think actions in Washington affect their lives? The capital seems awfully far away. Optimism, or pessimism, may have roots closer to home.

 

Adler’s sense of wealth comes not just from retirement money but from family gatherings that carry on a life-long musical tradition: “If all the family is together, we have 28 people playing horns,” he says.

 

For Santamaria, too, joy isn’t derived from what happens inside the Washington Beltway. He says, “I don’t depend on any president for my happiness.”

 

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Woodward reported from Washington. Associated Press Deputy Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.

 

 

How the AP-GfK poll was conducted

 

The Associated Press-GfK Poll on prospects for the next generation was conducted by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications from Aug. 16-20. It is based on landline and cellphone telephone interviews with a nationally representative random sample of 1,006 adults. Interviews were conducted with 604 respondents on landline telephones and 402 on cellular phones.

 

Digits in the phone numbers dialed were generated randomly to reach households with unlisted and listed landline and cellphone numbers.

 

Interviews were conducted in both English and Spanish.

 

As is done routinely in surveys, results were weighted, or adjusted, to ensure that responses accurately reflect the population’s makeup by factors such as age, sex, education and race. In addition, the weighting took into account patterns of phone use — landline only, cell only and both types — by region.

 

No more than one time in 20 should chance variations in the sample cause the results to vary by more than plus or minus 3.9 percentage points from the answers that would be obtained if all adults in the U.S. were polled.

 

There are other sources of potential error in polls, including the wording and order of questions.

 

AP-GfK Poll: Americans go to polls against backdrop of an uneven economy

By CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABER

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. economy is lifting job growth and wages but not voters’ spirits.

Americans are choosing a president against a backdrop of slow but steady growth that has managed to restore the economy from the crushing setback of the Great Recession. The government’s October jobs report , released Friday, showed that hiring remains solid, with 161,000 jobs added. The unemployment rate is a low 4.9 percent.

Yet the recovery, the slowest since World War II, has left many Americans feeling left behind, especially those who lack high skills or education or who live outside major population centers.

“The (typical) U.S. household is in a much better spot than they were eight years ago,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics. “But it hasn’t been a great decade for anyone either. You’ve still got a big chunk of the population who feels this hasn’t worked for them.”

The economy’s weak spots are a top concern for a majority of voters, who say the U.S. economy is in poor shape, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll. At the same time, they say their own personal finances are good.

Fifty-three percent of voters say the economy is “poor,” while 46 percent say “good,” according to the poll, conducted Oct. 20-24. Yet 65 percent say their own finances are good, versus 34 percent who rate them poor.

Seventy-three percent of Hillary Clinton supporters say that economy is good; just 16 percent of Donald Trump supporters say so.

And while 60 percent of whites say the economy is poor, 60 percent of nonwhites call it good. Yet whites and nonwhites are about equally likely to say their own personal finances are good.

Consider 73-year-old Charles Muller, who lives outside Trenton, New Jersey, and describes his personal finances as fine. He has a pension from 26 years as a state employee and receives Social Security.

But the broader economy seems fairly weak to Muller. A friend was laid off during the recession, then earned a teaching certificate, and yet still can’t find a full-time teaching job. And a friend’s daughter who recently graduated from college is stuck as an assistant manager of a dollar store.

“I know a lot of people who are struggling and have been unable to find jobs commensurate with their education levels,” Muller said. He is supporting Trump, though he sees the major presidential nominees as “the two worst candidates I’ve ever been given a choice of.”

Here’s a snapshot of the U.S. economy of the eve of the elections:

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SLOWER BUT STILL-SOLID HIRING

The job market has provide itself resilient.

Employers have added an average of 181,000 jobs a month this year. That’s down from last year’s robust 229,000 average. But it’s nearly double the monthly pace needed to lower the unemployment rate over time. The number of people seeking unemployment benefits is near a 40-year low — evidence that layoffs are scarce and most Americans are enjoying strong job security.

Blake Zalcberg, president of OFM, a furniture manufacturer in Raleigh, North Carolina, hopes to add nine employees to his 58-person company, including graphic artists, photographers and sales staff. He expects sales to grow by a third next year:

“It’s a fairly robust furniture market,” he said.

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PAY FINALLY ACCELERATING

With the unemployment rate down to 4.9 percent from the a peak of 10 percent in 2009, businesses have been forced to compete harder for new employees. That’s giving workers more bargaining power when they seek new jobs and finally boosting pay. Average hourly wages grew 2.8 percent in October from a year earlier — the fastest 12-month pace in seven years. Still, historically speaking, that’s still not great. Wages typically rise at about 3.5 percent each year in a healthy economy.

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CAUTIOUS CONSUMERS

Steady hiring and modest pay increases have emboldened more Americans to buy high-cost items like new cars. Auto sales are running near last year’s record pace of more than 17 million vehicles. Yet caution still reigns: Americans’ spending grew just 2.1 percent in the July-August quarter, down from a much healthier 4.3 percent in the previous three months.

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HOUSING HAS NEARLY RECOVERED

The bursting of the last decade’s housing bubble wiped out trillions in household wealth, cost more than 5 million Americans their homes and triggered the Great Recession. Yet the home market has mostly recovered, with purchase prices just 7 percent below their 2006 peaks. Greater home values have helped many families recoup some of their lost wealth. Sales of existing homes have plateaued this year at a nearly healthy level of about 5.4 million.

Doug Duncan, chief economist at Fannie Mae, foresees sales growth slowing slow next year. But more younger Americans are starting to buy homes, suggesting that millennials are tiring of living in apartments — or their parents’ basements— and are starting to move out.

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BUSINESSES HOLDING BACK

Companies with optimistic outlooks typically spend more on computers, machinery and other equipment to keep up with demand. Instead, in recent months the opposite has happened: Business investment in new equipment has fallen for four straight quarters. Some of that pullback occurred because oil drillers slashed spending on steel pipe and other gear in response to sharply lower oil prices. But many companies are also likely holding off on new spending until after the election, when potential economic policy changes will be clearer.

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WEAK WORKER PRODUCTIVITY

The U.S. economy has failed to grow much more efficient. Since the recession began in 2007, productivity — or output per hour of work — has grown at less than one-third the annual pace it did from 2000 through 2007. Rising productivity is vital to raising living standards, because it enables companies to raise pay without raising prices.

Economists blame a range of factors for the slowdown: Americans are starting fewer new companies, which tend to be quicker to adopt new technologies. And weaker investment in roads, ports and other infrastructure has slowed shipping and commuting times.

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MANY STILL LEFT BEHIND

Millions of Americans haven’t benefited from the consistent hiring of the past several years. Middle-income jobs in manufacturing and office work were permanently lost in the recession and have been replaced by lower-paying work in retail and fast food. Many of the unemployed have given up looking for work and are no longer counted as unemployed.

Nicholas Eberstadt, author of a new book, “Men Without Work,” notes that this has been a long-term phenomenon. For every unemployed man ages 25 through 54, three others are neither working nor looking for work. That ratio has doubled since 1990.

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AP Polling Editor Emily Swanson contributed to this report.

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Follow Chris Rugaber on Twitter at http://Twitter.com/ChrisRugaber


AP-GfK Poll: Most believe allegations about Trump and women
WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump’s behavior has long grated on Carolyn Miller, but the allegations he sexually assaulted women was one factor that helped her decide in the last week to cast her ballot for Hillary Clinton.
“I don’t think she’s a bad person. Trump, I think, is a bad person,” the 70-year-old Fort Myers, Florida, resident said. As for Trump’s accusers, Miller added, “I believe them.” And she said her vote for Clinton is “a default.”

Miller is among the more than 7 in 10 Americans who say in a new Associated Press-GfK poll that they believe the women who say the Republican presidential candidate kissed or groped them without their consent, a verdict that may have turned off enough voters, including some Republicans, to add to his challenges in the presidential race.

 Forty-two percent of Republican voters and 35 percent of Trump’s own supporters think the accusations are probably true. Men and women are about equally likely to think so.

While the poll suggests the wave of allegations about Trump’s treatment of women may blunt the impact of voters’ concerns about Clinton, it was taken before Friday’s news that the FBI will investigate whether there is classified information in newly uncovered emails related to its probe of her private server. Those emails were not from her server, according to a U.S. official who was not authorized to discuss details publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Before the development, the poll found that about half of voters say her use of the private server while she was secretary of state makes them less likely to vote for her. But they were more likely to say that Trump’s comments about women bother them a lot than to say the same about Clinton’s email server, 51 percent to 43 percent.

Since September, Clinton seems to have consolidated her support within her own party and drawn undecided voters such as Miller to her campaign, or at least pushed them away from Trump. The billionaire’s recent trouble with women seems to be one factor preventing him from doing the same.

He feuded with former Miss Universe Alicia Machado after Clinton noted he’d called her “Miss Piggy” for gaining weight while she wore the crown. Days later, a 2005 recording surfaced in which Trump can be heard describing himself sexually assaulting women in a conversation with Billy Bush, then the host of “Access Hollywood.”

Several women have since publicly accused Trump of groping and kissing them without permission, including a People magazine reporter who said Trump attacked her when his wife, Melania, was out of the room.

Trump called his remarks on the video “locker room talk,” dismissed the accusations as “fiction” and said of several accusers that they aren’t attractive enough to merit his attention.

Asked Thursday on Fox News Channel’s “The O’Reilly Factor” whether he thinks he would be ahead were it not for the “Access Hollywood” video, Trump replied, “I just don’t know. I think it was very negative.”

A majority of voters, 52 percent, say allegations about the way Trump treats women make them less likely to vote for him, including a fifth of Republican likely voters. And within that group, only about a third say they will vote for him, with about a third supporting Clinton and the remainder supporting third party candidates.

That may help explain why just 79 percent of Republican in the poll said they’re supporting Trump compared with 90 percent of Democrats supporting Clinton. Trump needs to close that gap to have any shot at victory.

Trump has tried to equate the accusations against him with charges of infidelity and sexual assault leveled for years against his rival’s husband, former President Bill Clinton. Trump has paraded the former president’s accusers before the cameras and accused Hillary Clinton of undermining her husband’s accusers.

The poll shows a majority of voters don’t buy Trump’s attempt at equivalence. Six in 10 say the allegations against the Clintons have no impact on their vote. That’s despite the fact that 63 percent think Hillary Clinton has probably threatened or undermined women who have accused her husband of sexual misconduct.

“The vote will be about Hillary Clinton, not her husband,” said Ryan Otteson, 33, of Salt Lake City, who’s voting for a third-party candidate, conservative independent Evan McMullin.

Valori Waggoner, a 26-year-old from Belton, Texas, said she believes Hillary Clinton probably did intimidate her husband’s accusers, but she said it makes no difference to how Waggoner is voting.

Waggoner was not going to vote for Clinton anyway, because as a doctor, Waggoner said she sees firsthand the inefficiency of the national health care plan that Clinton supports. But the alleged wrongdoing by Trump made her less likely to vote for the Republican. Instead, she’s backing Libertarian Gary Johnson.

The degree of alleged wrongdoing by the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates, Waggoner said, “are not equal.”

Most likely voters in the poll say they think Trump has little to no respect for women, with female voters especially likely to say he has none at all.

Clinton leads female likely voters by a 22 point margin in the poll, and even has a slight 5 point lead among men. In September’s AP-GfK poll, Clinton led women by a 17 point margin and trailed slightly by 6 points among men.

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The AP-GfK Poll of 1,546 adults, including 1,212 likely voters, was conducted online Oct. 20-24, using a sample drawn from GfK’s probability-based KnowledgePanel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 2.75 percentage points, and for likely voters is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.

Respondents were first selected randomly using telephone or mail survey methods and later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t have access to the internet were provided access for free.

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Online:

Poll results: http://ap-gfkpoll.com