By TOM RAUM and JENNIFER AGIESTA, Associated Press

 WASHINGTON (AP) — For the third year in a row, the nation’s economic recovery has hit a springtime soft spot. Reflecting that weakness, only 1 in 4 Americans now expects his or her own financial situation to improve over the next year, a new Associated Press-GfK poll shows.

 The sour mood is undermining support for President Barack Obama’s economic stewardship and for government in general.

 The poll shows that just 46 percent of Americans approve of Obama’s handling of the economy while 52 percent disapprove. That’s a negative turn from an even split last September — ahead of Obama’s November re-election victory — when 49 percent approved and 48 percent disapproved.

 Just 7 percent of Americans said they trust the government in Washington to do what is right “just about always,” the AP-GfK poll found. Fourteen percent trust it “most” of the time and two-thirds trust the federal government just “some of the time”; 11 percent say they never do.

 The downbeat public attitudes registered in the survey coincide with several dour economic reports showing recent slowdowns in gains in hiring, consumer retail spending, manufacturing activity and economic growth. Automatic government spending cuts, which are starting to kick in, also may be contributing to the current sluggishness and increased wariness on the part of both shoppers and employers.

 Overall, 25 percent of those in the poll describe the nation’s economy as good, 59 percent as poor — similar to a January AP-GfK poll.

Respondents split on whether this was a “good time” to make major purchases such as furniture and electronic devices, with 31 percent agreeing it was, 38 percent calling it a “bad time” and 25 percent remaining neutral.

 The economy’s recovery from the severe 2007-2009 recession has been slow and uneven. Even so, most economic forecasts see continued economic growth ahead, even if it is sluggish and accompanied by only slowly improving levels of joblessness. Another recession in the near future is not being forecast.

 In the new poll, few say they saw much improvement in the economy in the last month. Just 21 percent say things have gotten better, 17 percent say they’ve gotten worse and 60 percent thought the economy “stayed about the same.” And the public is split on whether things will get better anytime soon, with 31 percent saying the national economy will improve in the next year, 33 percent saying it will hold steady and 33 percent saying it will get worse. Further, about 4 in 10 expect the nation’s unemployment rate to climb in the next year.

 And the public’s outlook for its own financial future is at its worst point in three years. Just 26 percent think their household economic well-being will improve over the next year, 50 percent think it will stay the same and 22 percent expect it to worsen.

About 27 percent of those with incomes under $50,000 are the most likely to expect things for them personally to get worse in the next year compared with fewer than 2 in 10 among those with higher incomes.

 Democrats, who typically rate the economy better under the present Democratic president than do Republicans, have become less optimistic about their financial prospects since January. Then, 41 percent of Democrats thought their finances would improve in the next year while only 30 percent feel that way now.

 Jeremy Hammond, 33, of Queensbury, N.Y., a Web programmer, says Congress should focus on “the incredible debt and lack of spending control.” For instance, he said, it’s absurd for Congress to try to force the Postal Service to continue Saturday mail delivery — an effort that has so far failed — when the agency says, “We can’t afford it.’ Hammond, who considers himself a political independent, said he voted for Obama in 2008 but not in 2012.

 Obama’s overall job approval in the poll is at its lowest point since his re-election, at 50 percent, with 47 percent disapproving. His approval among Republicans is just 10 percent; among independents, 49 percent disapprove.

 But, if it’s any solace to the president and his supporters, Congress fared even worse. Thirty-seven percent approve of the performance of congressional Democrats, while 57 percent disapprove. For congressional Republicans, 27 percent approved of their performance and 67 percent disapproved.

 The Associated Press-GfK Poll was conducted April 11-15 by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cellphone interviews with 1,004 adults nationwide. Results for the full sample have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points. It is larger for subgroups.

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AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius and writer Charles Babington contributed to this report.

 

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Follow Tom Raum on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/tomraum

 

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Online:

http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com

 

How the AP-GfK poll was conducted

 

The Associated Press-GfK poll on the economy was conducted by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications from April 11-15. It is based on landline telephone and cellphone interviews with a nationally representative random sample of 1,004 adults. Interviews were conducted with 601 respondents on landline telephones and 403 on cellular telephones.

 

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, cellular only and both types — by region.

 

No more than 1 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.

 

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

 Topline results are available at http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com and http://surveys.ap.org

Kayla Mueller’s brother: Swap with Taliban raised IS demands

PRESCOTT, Ariz. (AP) — The brother of an American woman who was killed after spending months as a hostage of Islamic State militants says Kayla Mueller’s situation worsened after the government traded five Taliban commanders for a captive U.S. soldier.

The militants increased their demands after the May swap for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, Eric Mueller told NBC’s “Today” in an interview that aired Monday.

“That made the whole situation worse because that’s when the demands got greater,” he said. “They got larger. They realized that they had something.”

Mueller’s death was confirmed Feb. 10 by her family and U.S. officials. The Islamic State group claimed she died in a Jordanian airstrike, but U.S. officials have not confirmed that. The Pentagon said it didn’t know how she was killed.

The 26-year-old international aid worker, who grew up in Prescott, Arizona, was captured in August 2013 after leaving a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Aleppo, Syria.

Mueller’s brother and parents spoke to “Today” host Savannah Guthrie. The family has declined repeated requests for an interview with The Associated Press.

Mueller’s father, Carl Mueller, said that the United States’ willingness to swap for Bergdahl but not pay ransom or allow ransom to be paid for his daughter “was pretty hard to take.”

“I actually asked the president that question when we were in the White House,” he said without elaborating.

Mueller’s parents said in the interview that the U.S. government put policy ahead of American lives.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday that the Mueller family had been put in a difficult position by the U.S. policy against making concessions to terrorists, but he defended it as being in the best interests of the nation.

“The president is confident that his administration did do everything that was possible within the confines of that policy — using our military might, using our intelligence capability, using our diplomatic influence — to try to secure the safe release and return of Kayla Mueller,” Earnest said.

A recent Associated Press-GfK poll found that only 3 in 10 Americans think the United States should pay a ransom to save an American hostage overseas, even if it’s the only way to rescue the hostage. A quarter of Americans say there are circumstances when the United States should directly negotiate with a terrorist group.

The poll of 1,045 adults was conducted online Jan. 29-Feb. 2. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

The Obama administration has defended the Bergdahl swap. Some U.S. lawmakers were outraged by the exchange of five Taliban commanders held at the Guantanamo Bay prison for the Idaho native who left his post in Afghanistan and was captured and held by the Taliban for five years.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff unanimously supported the exchange, insisting that the United States has a sacred commitment to men and women who serve that it never will leave anyone behind on the battlefield.


AP-GfK Poll: Most back Obama plan to raise investment taxes

WASHINGTON (AP) — The rich aren’t taxed enough and the middle class is taxed too much. As for your taxes, you probably think they’re too high as well.

Those are the results of an Associated Press-GfK poll that found that most people in the United States support President Barack Obama’s proposal to raise investment taxes on high-income families.

The findings echo the populist messages of two liberal senators — Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont — being courted by the progressive wing of the Democratic Party to run for president in 2016. The results also add weight to Obama’s new push to raise taxes on the rich and use some of the revenue to lower taxes on the middle class.

Obama calls his approach “middle-class economics.”

It’s not flying with Republicans in Congress, who oppose higher taxes.

But Bob Montgomery of Martinsville, Virginia, said people with higher incomes should pay more.

“I think the more you make the more taxes you should pay,” said Montgomery, who is retired after working 40 years at an auto dealership. “I can’t see where a man makes $50,000 a year pays as much taxes as somebody that makes $300,000 a year.”

According to the poll, 68 percent of those questioned said wealthy households pay too little in federal taxes; only 11 percent said the wealthy pay too much.

Also, 60 percent said middle-class households pay too much in federal taxes, while 7 percent said they paid too little.

Obama laid out a series of tax proposals as part of his 2016 budget released this month. Few are likely to win approval in the Republican-controlled Congress. But if fellow Democrats were to embrace his ideas, they could play a role in the 2016 race.

One proposal would increase capital gains taxes on households making more than $500,000. In the survey, 56 percent favored the proposal, while only 16 percent opposed it.

Democrats, at 71 percent, were the most likely to support raising taxes on capital gains. Among Republicans and independents, 46 percent supported it.

Obama’s other tax plans didn’t fare as well.

About 27 percent said they favored making estates pay capital gains taxes on assets when they are inherited, and 36 percent opposed it.

Just 19 percent said they supported the president’s aborted plan to scale back the tax benefits of popular college savings plans, 529 accounts, named after a section in federal tax law. Obama withdrew the proposal after Republicans and some Democrats in Congress opposed it.

“I think that’s a poor idea,” said Jamie Starr of suburban Atlanta. “Being that I’m a mother of five children, that is a wonderful program.”

“That’s kids trying to make their own away in this world without having student loans,” she said.

Obama’s proposal to levy a new tax on banks was supported by 47 percent of those surveyed. Only 13 percent opposed it, while 36 percent were undecided.

It’s tax season, that time of the year when people are confronted by their obligations to the government. The poll found that 56 percent of us think our own federal taxes are too high, and 4 percent said they pay too little.

If taxes are increased, a slight majority said the additional money should help pay down the national debt. Using the money to cut other taxes or fund government programs were less popular options.

Republicans, in general, are more likely than Democrats to oppose higher taxes, except when it comes to low-income families.

Only 19 percent of respondents said low-income families pay too little in federal taxes, but there was a significant split between the political parties. Just 10 percent of Democrats said low-income families pay too little, while 33 percent of Republicans said they don’t pay enough.

According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the poorest 20 percent of households paid less than 1 percent of all federal taxes in 2011, the latest year for data. The top 10 percent paid more than half of all federal taxes.

That’s OK, said Sen. Sanders, an independent from Vermont, because wealthy people have seen their incomes soar while the rest of the country’s wages have been much more flat.

“Most people understand that at a time when the rich are becoming much richer, the middle class is continuing to disappear,” Sanders said. “And people also understand that the very wealthy and large corporations are able to take advantage of huge loopholes, which enable them not to pay their fair share of taxes.”

Obama has been pushing to raise taxes on the rich since his first campaign for president in 2008. He has had some success. In January 2013, Obama persuaded Republicans in Congress to let income tax rates go up for families making more than $450,000 a year. It was part of a deal that made permanent a large package of tax cuts first enacted under Republican President George W. Bush.

Some liberals are looking for a candidate to push for higher taxes on the rich in the 2016 race. Sanders and Democrat Warren would fit the profile, though Warren says she is not running for president and Sanders says he has not made up his mind.

Among Democrats, Hillary Rodham Clinton is seen as the front-runner for the nomination; she has yet to make her candidacy official.

Clinton hasn’t offered specifics on how she would approach taxes as a candidate. But she offered a glimpse of her views following Obama’s State of the Union Address in January, when she tweeted that Obama “pointed way to an economy that works for all. Now we need to step up & deliver for the middle class. #FairShot #FairShare.”

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The AP-GfK Poll of 1,045 adults was conducted online Jan. 29-Feb. 2, 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 3.5 percentage points.

Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods, and later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were provided access at no cost to them.

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Online:

AP-GfK Poll: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com

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Follow Stephen Ohlemacher on Twitter: http://twitter.com/stephenatap