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 shows voter distaste for Putin-style leadership
WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump has called Russian President Vladimir Putin “a leader — unlike what we have in this country.”

But most Americans don’t agree with Trump’s assessment of Putin’s leadership skills, a new Associated Press-GfK poll shows.

Only 24 percent of registered voters say Putin has leadership qualities that would be good for an American president to share, while 71 percent say he does not. In fact, a majority, 56 percent, said they have an unfavorable view of Putin, while only 10 percent said they view the Russian leader favorably.

 Voters were split on whether Trump would be too close to Putin, with 42 percent saying they think Trump would be too close, and 41 percent saying his approach would be about right. Fourteen percent think he would not be close enough.
By comparison, most voters (53 percent) think Democrat Hillary Clinton’s relationship with Putin would be about right, while 11 percent think she would be too close and 32 percent think she would not be close enough.

The relationship between the Republican nominee and the Russian strongman began taking on new life when Putin praised Trump last December as “bright and talented” and “the absolute leader of the presidential race.”

The billionaire businessman hailed Putin’s regard for him as a “great honor,” brushing off widespread allegations that the Russian president has ordered the killing of political dissidents and journalists.

“Our country does plenty of killing also,” Trump told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” in December.

Four in 10 Trump supporters and only 1 in 10 Hillary Clinton supporters say Putin has leadership qualities that would be good for an American president to have. Still, even among Trump’s supporters, just 16 percent have a favorable opinion of Putin. Only 5 percent of Clinton’s supporters do.

Marissa Garth, a 28-year-old stay-at-home mom from Smithfield, Utah, said she plans to vote for Trump this November because he exhibits the qualities of a strong leader — not to be compared with Putin.

“I think (Putin) is a strong leader for his country,” she said. “But at the same time I don’t think he necessarily has the qualities that I would want as a president.”

In fact, the poll finds that men are more likely than women to say that Putin has leadership qualities that would be good in an American president, 28 percent to 19 percent.

Among Clinton’s supporters, 69 percent say Trump would be too close to Putin. Forty-nine percent of those supporting another candidate share that view, but only 8 percent of Trump supporters say their candidate would be too close to Putin. Eighty percent of Trump supporters say his approach would be about right. Among conservatives, 20 percent say Trump would be too close to Putin.

There is nothing 54-year old Gary Sellers, of Homewood, Illinois, likes about Putin — or Trump. He called Putin a “dictator,” adding, “there are no qualities of his that I wish that an American president would have.”

A lukewarm Clinton supporter, he’s concerned that Trump shares Putin’s extreme views of governing. “I feel he has a dictatorial approach toward being president of the United States,” Sellers said of Trump.

Forty-seven percent of voters say they approve and 52 percent disapprove of President Barack Obama’s handling of the U.S. relationship with Russia.

Voters are divided over whether the next president should take a tougher approach to Putin (42 percent) or whether the current approach is about right (39 percent). Just 16 percent think the next president should take a friendlier approach.

Just under half of voters (48 percent) say the U.S. relationship with Russia is a very or extremely important issue, ranking it low on Americans’ list of priorities, far below issues like the economy (92 percent), the threat posed by the Islamic State group (70 percent), the U.S. role in world affairs more generally (68 percent) and immigration (60 percent).

There’s a generational divide over Russia. Two-thirds of voters age 65 and over and more than half of those between 50 and 64 call the U.S. relationship with Russia very or extremely important, while only 4 in 10 30-49 year olds and only a third of those under 30 say the same.

Generally speaking, voters are more likely to say they trust Clinton than Trump on negotiating with Russia, 40 percent to 33 percent. Nineteen percent say they trust neither and 7 percent trust both equally.

John Eppenger, 68, a retiree in Fairfield, Ala., said that when it comes to dealing with Russia, Clinton would “do a much better job than Trump. She’s not perfect, she’s not ideal, but she’s better.”

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The AP-GfK Poll of 1,694 adults, including 1,476 registered voters, was conducted online Sept. 15-19, 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 2.5 percentage points, and for registered voters is plus or minus 2.5 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


AP-GfK Poll: Majority of Americans fear Trump presidency

By JONATHAN LEMIRE and EMILY SWANSON

NEW YORK (AP) — More than half the country fears a Trump presidency. And only about a third of Americans believe he is at least somewhat qualified to serve in the White House.

In the final sprint to Election Day, a new Associated Press-GfK poll underscores those daunting roadblocks for Donald Trump as he tries to overtake Hillary Clinton.

Moreover, most voters oppose the hard-line approach to immigration that is a centerpiece of the billionaire businessman’s campaign. They are more likely to trust Clinton to handle a variety of issues facing the country, and Trump has no advantage on the national security topics also at the forefront of his bid.

Trump undoubtedly has a passionate base of support, seen clearly among the thousands of backers who fill the stands at his signature rallies. But most people don’t share that fervor. Only 29 percent of registered voters would be excited and just 24 percent would be proud should Trump prevail in November.

Only one in four voters find him even somewhat civil or compassionate, and just a third say he’s not at all racist.

“We as Americans should be embarrassed about Donald Trump,” said Michael DeLuise, 66, a retired university vice president and registered Republican who lives in Eugene, Oregon. “We as Americans have always been able to look at the wacky leaders of other countries and say ‘Phew, that’s not us.’ We couldn’t if Trump wins. It’s like putting P.T. Barnum in charge. And it’s getting dangerous.”

To be sure, the nation is sour on Clinton, too. Only 39 percent of voters have a favorable view of the Democratic nominee, compared to the 56 percent who view her unfavorably. Less than a third say they would be excited or proud should she move into the White House.

“I think she’s an extremely dishonest person and have extreme disdain for her and her husband,” said one registered Republican, Denise Pettitte, 36, from Watertown, Wisconsin. “I think it would be wonderful to elect a woman, but a different woman.”

But as poorly as voters may view Clinton, they think even less of Trump.

Forty-four percent say they would be afraid if Clinton, the former secretary of state, is elected, far less than say the same of Trump. He’s viewed more unfavorably than favorably by a 61 percent to 34 percent margin, and more say their unfavorable opinion of the New Yorker is a strong one than say the same of Clinton, 50 percent to 44 percent.

That deep distain for both candidates prompts three-quarters of voters to say that a big reason they’ll be casting their ballot is to stop someone, rather than elect someone.

“It’s not really a vote for her as it’s a vote against Trump,” said Mark Corbin, 59, a business administrator and registered Democrat from Media, Pennsylvania.

Roughly half of voters see Clinton at least somewhat qualified, while just 30 percent say Trump is.

Even when it comes to what may be Clinton’s greatest weakness, the perception that she is dishonest, Trump fails to perform much better: 71 percent say she’s only slightly or not at all honest, while 66 percent say the same of Trump. Forty-nine percent say Clinton is at least somewhat corrupt, but 43 percent say that of Trump.

“Whatever her problems are, they don’t even come close to him,” said JoAnn Dinkelman, 66, a Republican from Rancho Cucamonga, California, who will cross party lines and vote for Clinton. “Everything that comes out of his mouth that is fact-checked turns out to be a lie.”

Trump finds no respite with voters when it comes to what he vows to do as president, either.

Nearly 6 in 10 oppose his promise to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, and only 21 percent of his supporters and 9 percent of registered voters overall are very confident he would succeed at fulfilling his promise that Mexico would pay for the construction.

Six in 10 believe there should be a way for immigrants living in the country illegally to become U.S. citizens — a view that Trump opposes.

“The wall isn’t the answer. It’s not feasible and Mexico won’t pay for it,” said Timothy Seitz, 26, a graduate student at the Ohio State University and a Republican. “We should be leaders. We shouldn’t cower from others and cut ourselves off in the world.”

Beyond immigration, voters say they trust Clinton over Trump by wide margins when it comes to health care, race relations and negotiations with Russia. She also narrowly tops Trump when it comes to filling Supreme Court vacancies, as well as another of the billionaire’s signature issues: handling international trade.

Trump is narrowly favored on creating jobs, 39 percent to 35 percent, while in general, voters are about equally split on which candidate would better handle the economy. Voters are slightly more likely to trust Trump than Clinton on handling gun laws, 39 percent to 35 percent.

Voters are closely split on which candidate would better handle protecting the country and evenly divided on which would better handle the threat posed by the Islamic State group. And Americans are much more likely to say they trust Clinton than Trump to do a better job handling the U.S. image abroad.

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The AP-GfK Poll of 1,694 adults, including 1,476 registered voters, was conducted online Sept. 15-19, 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 2.5 percentage points, and for registered voters plus or minus 2.7 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