By LIZ SIDOTI, AP National Political Writer

For all the talk of recovery, Americans are growing increasingly pessimistic about the economy as soaring gas costs strain already-tight budgets. So far, people aren’t taking it out on President Barack Obama, a new Associated Press-GfK poll shows.

Even so, the survey highlights a central challenge Obama will face in his campaign for re-election. The president will have to convince a lot of voters who are still feeling financial hardship that things are getting better.

Obama’s approval ratings have held steady at around 50 percent over the past month. But the disconnect between negative perceptions of the economy and signs that a rebound are under way could provide an opening for Republicans at the outset of the 2012 campaign.

In the survey, just a sliver of Americans — 15 percent — said they believed the economy had improved over the past month, compared with 30 percent who had thought that in January. Only a third were optimistic of better times ahead for the country, down from about half earlier this year. And 28 percent thought the economy would get worse, the largest of slice of people who have expressed that sentiment since the question was first asked in December 2009.

“It’s in a poor state,” said Billy Shirley, 74, a Democrat from Commerce, Ga. “Everything’s going to the bad. Everyone’s spending more on gas, food, everything. The prices on everything are going up, and that’s hurting the nation.”

Recent economic indicators paint a more positive picture: The unemployment rate, though still high at 8.9 percent, has been declining, and consumer spending and personal income were both up last month. The gross domestic product was growing at an annual rate of 3.1 percent as last year ended.

Americans are acutely focused on their financial well-being, even as turmoil in the Middle East commands international attention. And the foreign unrest is directly affecting them by boosting oil prices. More Americans — 77 percent, up from 54 percent last fall — now say gas prices are highly important to them.

Obama’s job-performance ratings haven’t suffered as people’s attitudes about the economy have shifted over the past month.

Half still approve of how he’s doing his job, and half say he deserves to be re-elected. His rating on handling the economy was unchanged: 47 percent approved. In fact, twice as many people said Obama “understands the important issues the country will need to focus on during the next two years” as said that about Republicans in Congress.

That’s not to say that Obama is escaping responsibility for the economic situation.

Annale Iltis, 26, of Sarasota, Fla., faults big business, the federal government and, to a lesser extent, the president.

“I do a bit,” she said, “but at the same time he has good ideas. He just doesn’t have the backers in the House and the Senate to get them done.” The self-described independent voter, who supported Obama in 2008 and says she would do so next year, is concerned that deep budget cuts that Congress is considering will hurt the fragile economic recovery.

“It seems stable now but I fear it’s going to go downhill quickly,” she said.

Henry Kugeler, 49, of Chicago, likened the situation to the fable about the crawling tortoise that wins the race against the speedy hare, saying: “Right now, the country is the tortoise. I don’t think the economy is getting worse. The recovery that’s happening is real, but it’s incredibly slow.”

The Democrat doesn’t blame Obama or other politicians, saying: “They haven’t helped but I don’t know that they’ve hurt.”

Obama inherited an economy in recession. Republicans angling for the chance to challenge him next fall have been blaming him for the slow recovery and arguing they could do better. Presidential advisers are hopeful that the positive economic trends continue, giving Obama an opportunity to make the case for keeping him in office rather than risk an economic backslide.

As the slow-to-start GOP nomination fight starts in earnest this spring, the poll shows that candidates clearly have work to do.

More than or nearly half of Republicans surveyed say they don’t know enough about the following potential contenders to even express an opinion about them: Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann.

Roughly two-thirds of Republicans expressed favorable views of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, while former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney got slightly lower marks.

Even though many of the candidates aren’t well-known, about half of Republicans say they are satisfied with their choices.

The poll comes just as Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill wrestle over the federal budget, and there could be a partial government shutdown without further action by Congress.

The Republican-controlled House has approved some $60 billion in spending cuts. The Democratic Senate is looking at $33 billion. Without agreement, some Republicans say they won’t approve funding to keep the government operating.

The issue of federal spending isn’t just something lawmakers talk about. It’s clearly weighing on the public.

Roughly half in the survey said they expected enormous federal budget deficits to cause a major economic crisis for the country for the next decade, and most said they worry that mounting federal debt will hamper the financial future of their children and grandchildren.

In the shorter term, people in the poll view everyone negatively when it comes to handling the deficit, but lawmakers get worse marks than the president. Only about a third of those surveyed approve of how Republicans and Democrats are dealing with the issue, while 41 percent approve of Obama on the matter.

People also are evenly divided on which party would best handle the deficit.

The Associated Press-GfK Poll was conducted March 24-28 by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cell phone interviews with 1,001 adults nationwide and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.

Online: http://ap-gfkpoll.com

___

Associated Press Polling Director Trevor Tompson, Deputy Polling Director Jennifer Agiesta and News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.

 

 

How the poll was conducted

 

By the Associated Press

The Associated Press-GfK Poll on President Obama and the economy was conducted by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications from Mar. 24-28, 2011. It is based on landline and cell phone telephone interviews with a nationally representative random sample of 1,001 adults. Interviews were conducted with 701 respondents on landline telephones and 300 on cellular phones.

Digits in the phone numbers dialed were generated randomly to reach households with unlisted and listed landline and cell phone 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 4.2 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.

The questions and results are available at http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com .

 


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:

___

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.

___

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.

___

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.

___

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.

___

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.

___

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.

___

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.

___

AP Polling Editor Emily Swanson contributed to this report.

___

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.

___

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.

___

Online:

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