By JENNIFER AGIESTA and JIM KUHNHENN, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The extreme funk that settled over the country during the summer has eased slightly, but Americans remain gloomy about the economy and more than half say President Barack Obama does not inspire confidence about a recovery.

A sizable majority — more than 7 in 10 — believe the country is headed in the wrong direction and, in a new high, 43 percent describe the nation’s economy as “very poor,” according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll. Among those surveyed, less than 40 percent say Obama’s proposed remedies for high unemployment would increase jobs significantly.

The pessimism is not a good sign for the nation’s recovery hopes and presents a more urgent challenge for Obama as he mounts his re-election bid.

About 4 in 10 think unemployment will rise in the coming year; just 23 percent expect it to decrease. And few expect the government to be able to help. Only 41 percent say the government can do much to create jobs, and less than 40 percent say the main elements of Obama’s jobs proposal would increase employment significantly.

What’s more, expectations for the coming year have not improved, with 41 percent believing the economy will remain the same, 27 percent saying it will get worse and 30 percent saying it will improve.

In a glimmer of a bright spot, less than a quarter of those surveyed say they think the economy worsened in the past month, compared with nearly half who felt that way in August. And Obama could find some solace in the poll’s finding that 44 percent place heavy blame for the economy’s state on President George W. Bush, while 27 percent put the blame on him.

Still, the public’s mood is decidedly downbeat, creating yet another obstacle to economic growth, which relies in part on public optimism to spur demand.

Illustrating Obama’s precarious perch, 9 percent of survey respondents who said he deserves to be re-elected said they could vote for one of the three leading Republicans seeking the presidential nomination.

“If Romney and Obama were going head to head at this point in time I would probably move to Romney,” said Dale Bartholomew, 58, a manufacturing equipment salesman from Marengo, Ill. Bartholomew said he agrees with Obama’s proposed economic remedies and said partisan divisions have blocked the president’s initiatives.

But, he added: “His inability to rally the political forces, if you will, to accomplish his goal is what disappoints me.”

Despite the high number of people who believe the country is headed in the wrong direction, Obama himself gets some benefit of the doubt. His approval ratings are holding steady, with 46 percent approving of his job as president and 52 percent disapproving. Obama’s standing with the public is weakest on the economy and in his efforts to tackle unemployment, with about 6 in 10 disapproving of his handling of both.

Obama’s standing still vastly exceeds that of Congress. In a slight improvement, Congress’ approval ratings rose from its August low of 12 percent to 16 percent. Still, 82 percent disapprove of Congress, including 56 percent who say they “strongly disapprove.”

Little illustrates the decline in the public’s faith in Obama more than the sharp dip in confidence he has experienced since the highs he enjoyed immediately after his election. Specifically, only 43 percent of the respondents say they are confident that Obama “will be successful in bringing about the changes needed to improve the economy,” compared with 72 percent who said they were confident of his abilities in November 2008.

“I believe he is doing all he knows how, but it’s just not working,” said Ann Anderson, 49, a college administrator from Homer Glen, Ill.

Democrats tend to stick by the president, expressing much more confidence in his ability to turn the economy around. More than 7 in 10 say they are at least somewhat confident of his abilities to improve the economy. Among independents, 37 percent are that confident and only 11 percent of Republicans share that view.

Still, the disappointment in Obama extends to some Democrats who believe he should stand his ground.

“When Obama got elected I was real hopeful for a lot of changes,” said Dave Buerger, 60, a part-time registered nurse from New Salisbury, Ind. “Overall I would say that I’m real disappointed in his concessions to the banks and Wall Street and the Republicans. I think he needs to be more liberal and stand his ground more. I think he’s given in too much.”

Even as the public expresses disappointment in Obama and disapproval of Congress, only 41 percent of respondents say the government can do quite a bit or a great deal to create jobs. Three out of 10 believe government’s impact on jobs is moderate and 29 percent say it can help create little or no jobs at all.

Similarly, a majority of the public does not hold much hope for the job creation prospects of either Obama’s $447 billion jobs proposal or for measures proposed by congressional Republicans.

Obama’s plan to create jobs by increasing spending on public works projects such as schools, roads and bridges finds only 37 percent of respondents believing it will create a significant number of jobs. Tax credits to companies that hire those who have unemployed for six months or more elicits a similar response.

Only 27 percent of the respondents said the Republican plan to reduce the number of regulations on businesses would create a significant number of jobs; 45 percent say it would create few or no jobs.

The poll, however, found substantial support — 62 percent — for a proposal by Senate Democrats to pay for Obama’s jobs proposal with a surtax on incomes over $1 million. One quarter of the respondents opposed the idea and 10 percent said they were neutral. Though the surtax has little or no chance of passing, the poll results underscore the view of Democrats that the proposal has political appeal.

Anderson, the college administrator from Illinois, voiced cautious support for the tax on millionaires.

“That’s a tough call. Yes, I do, but that’s only because I’m not one of them,” she said. “Should they pay their fair share? Absolutely. Should they pay a certain percentage? I don’t know how to answer that.”

But Teresa Rowe, 53, a dance team consultant from Richland, Wash., said she preferred an overhaul of the entire tax system.

“They’ll go after the millionaires first and then those slightly below millionaires. It’s a slippery slope,” she said. “They need to look at the entire tax system and revise the whole system.”

The Associated Press-GfK Poll was conducted Oct. 13-17 by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cellphone interviews with 1,000 adults nationwide, and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

Online: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com

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Associated Press writers Nancy Benac and Stacy A. Anderson and News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.

 

How the poll on President Barack Obama and the economy was conducted

The Associated Press-GfK Poll on President Barack Obama and the economy was conducted by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications Oct. 13-17. It is based on landline and cellphone telephone interviews with a nationally representative random sample of 1,000 adults. Interviews were conducted with 700 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 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 4 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: Most say filing tax returns is easy; few willing to pay more for simpler forms

By STEPHEN OHLEMACHER and JENNIFER AGIESTA, Associated Press

 WASHINGTON (AP) — Struggling to figure out your federal tax return? You’re not alone, but you’re in the minority.

With the tax filing deadline looming next week, a majority of Americans say completing a federal tax return is easy, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll.

The findings defy conventional wisdom in Washington, where politicians have made careers out of promising a simpler tax system. In another blow to advocates of tax reform, almost no one is willing to pay higher taxes in exchange for a simpler code.

“If you’ve got the equivalent of a high school degree and you know how to do math, it’s very simple,” said Sara Thornton, a small business owner from East Granby, Conn.

Only 7 percent of those surveyed say they would be willing to pay more in federal taxes if the process of filling out a tax return were easier. Some 90 percent say “no, thanks.”

“No, because I don’t know that it is that difficult,” said Alicia Brown of suburban Des Moines, Iowa. “We already pay outlandish taxes because we live in Iowa. We have very high real estate taxes.”

The tax-writing committees in Congress have spent the past several years trying to build momentum for the herculean task of simplifying the tax code. One reason it’s so difficult is there are bound to be winners and losers. Sweeping changes to precious tax breaks will undoubtedly leave some people paying more, while others pay less.

One selling point for tax reform has been a simpler tax form. Ever hear a politician say you should be able to fill out your taxes on the back of a postcard? You’ll probably hear it again during this fall’s elections.

The National Taxpayer Advocate says filers spend a total of 6.1 billion hours a year preparing tax returns, at a cost of $168 billion. According to the IRS, 90 percent of filers either pay a tax preparer or use computer software to help them fill out their returns.

But 58 percent in the AP-GfK poll say completing a federal tax return is easy. Thirty-eight percent call it hard.

Fully 86 percent who have completed their tax forms say they are extremely confident or very confident that they filled them out correctly.

Not surprisingly, higher income taxpayers are more likely to say that filling out tax forms is difficult. Wealthy people tend to have more complicated taxes because they often have multiple sources of income and they are more likely to itemize their deductions, making them eligible for more tax breaks.

Forty-five percent of those with incomes above $100,000 said it is hard, compared with 33 percent among those making less than $50,000.

Through March 28, the IRS has processed 89 million returns. About 82 percent have qualified for refunds, averaging $2,831. That’s about $207 billion in tax refunds. Almost 91 percent of returns have been filed electronically.

Americans think most of their fellow taxpayers are honest, but not all of them. On average, poll-takers estimate that about one-third of Americans intentionally cheat when filling out their tax returns.

Erma Pierce of Poplar Bluff in southeast Missouri said she thinks about half of people cheat on their taxes, and she takes a dim view of it.

“You’re not supposed to cheat, lie or steal,” Pierce said. “It’s against the Bible.”

Thornton, the small business owner in Connecticut, said her estimate depends on the definition of cheating.

“People think of cheating as a case of, I reported I have nine children and I only have two. Or I reported I only made $20,000 this year and I actually made $50,000,” Thornton said. “They think of those forms of cheating, the absolute blatant, extravagant forms.”

Thornton’s definition of cheating is broader, which is why she thinks 80 percent to 90 percent of people cheat on their taxes.

“The minor forms of cheating are things like, well, I can increase my charitable deduction by $200,” Thornton said. “Most people consider, quote, unquote padding their income tax reporting or shaving it off a little bit, they don’t necessarily view that as cheating.”

“I define that as cheating only because it really is.”

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted March 20-24, 2014 using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based online panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,012 adults, and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points for all respondents.

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.

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AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.

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Online:

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

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


AP-GfK Poll: Election indicators suggest GOP edge

By, JENNIFER AGIESTA, Associated Press

(AP) – The latest Associated Press-GfK poll holds bad news for President Barack Obama, but as the November elections draw closer, there are ominous signs for congressional Democrats as well.

A look at the key findings from the March poll on this year’s election and the burgeoning 2016 presidential field.

GOP GAINING GROUND

Preferences for control of Congress are tight, but Republicans have gained on Democrats since January. Thirty-six percent in last month’s poll said they would rather see the Democrats in charge of Congress and 37 percent chose Republicans.

Democrats held a narrow advantage on that question in January, when 39 percent favored the Democrats and 32 percent the Republicans.

Democrats are in the majority in the Senate while Republicans run the House.

The shift stems largely from a change among those most interested in politics.

In the new poll, registered voters who are most strongly interested in politics favored the Republicans by 14 percentage points, 51 percent to 37 percent. In January, this group was about evenly split, with 42 percent preferring Democrats and 45 percent the Republicans.

That’s not the only positive sign in the poll for the Republicans.

Favorable views of the GOP have improved, with 38 percent overall now saying they hold a favorable impression of the Party. Republicans’ positive view of their own party has increased from 57 percent in January to 72 percent now.

Even impressions of the tea party movement have shifted more positive in recent months. GOP favorability still lags behind that of the Democrats, however, with 43 percent holding a favorable view of the Democratic Party.

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CONGRESSIONAL APPROVAL STAGNANT

Congressional approval is stagnant and negative, with just 16 percent saying they approve while 82 percent disapprove. Among those who have “a great deal” or “quite a bit” of interest in politics, 90 percent disapprove, including 61 percent who strongly disapprove.

Nearly 4 in 10 (39 percent) would like to see their own member of Congress re-elected, an improvement since January. Among registered voters who say they pay a great deal of attention to politics, 44 percent say they would like to see their current member re-elected, compared with 33 percent in January.

Here, there’s a glimmer of hope for Democrats. Those who consider themselves Democrats are now more likely than Republicans to say their own member of Congress ought to be re-elected. Not all Democrats live in districts represented by Democrats, of course, but it represents a shift in opinion since January.

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WHO’S IN CHARGE

With control of Congress divided between the parties, most Americans say Obama has a lot or quite a bit of control over what the federal government does, outpacing the share who say the Democrats or Republicans in Congress are in control.

Partisans tend to see the opposition as the controlling force, with Republicans more apt than Democrats to see Obama in charge, and Democrats more likely to say the Republicans have the upper hand.

Six in 10 (62 percent) of those with a great deal or quite a bit of interest in politics say Obama has a lot or quite a bit of control of what the federal government does. Just half (51 percent) of those closely attuned to politics say Democrats in Congress exert a similar influence over what the federal government does and 40 percent say the same about Republicans in Congress.

There’s little change since December in which party Americans trust more to handle major issues.

Democrats’ strong points are on handling social issues, including same-sex marriage (31 percent prefer Democrats, 17 percent the Republicans) and abortion (30 percent prefer Democrats, 22 percent Republicans). Republicans have the edge on protecting the country, 34 percent to 16 percent, a slightly wider margin than they held on the question in December.

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LOOKING TO 2016? NOT SO MUCH

The poll measured impressions of 19 potential 2016 presidential candidates, and found that a majority of those surveyed offered an opinion about just seven of them. The other 12 have quite a lot of introducing themselves to do if they are to make a run for the White House.

Most people said either they hadn’t heard of them or skipped the question.

Hillary Rodham Clinton generated the most positive response of the bunch, with 46 percent viewing the former secretary of state and first lady favorably and 39 percent unfavorably.

Among potential GOP contenders, none generated a net positive reaction from the public, with 2012 vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan faring best – 27 percent viewed him favorably, 29 percent unfavorably.

Among Republicans, majorities have favorable impressions of Ryan and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. But in a sign that the past isn’t always prologue, nearly half of Republicans say they don’t know enough to have an opinion about former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, a large factor in the 2012 nomination fight.

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The AP-GfK Poll was conducted March 20-24, 2014 using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based online panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,012 adults, and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points for all respondents.

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.

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AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.

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Online:

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

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Follow Jennifer Agiesta on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/JennAgiesta