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 the US is heading the wrong way, hope for new direction come November

By JENNIFER AGIESTA, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress has checked out, and the American people have noticed.

Three-quarters of Americans doubt the federal government will address the important problems facing the country this year, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll.

All told, only 28 percent of Americans think the nation is heading in the right direction, the lowest level in August of an election year since 2008. It’s about on par with 2006, when Democrats took control of the U.S. House amid a backlash to the Iraq war.

This time around, it’s not clear whether either party will benefit from the disaffection.

One-third say they hope the Republicans take control of Congress outright this fall — which the GOP can accomplish with a net gain of six seats in the U.S. Senate while holding the U.S. House. The same share want to see Democrats lead Congress — a far less likely possibility.

The final third? They say it just doesn’t matter who takes control of Congress.

Overall, just 13 percent of Americans approve of the way Congress overall is handling its job.

There are some signs in the new poll that Republicans have gained ground as the height of the campaign approaches. In May, they trailed Democrats a bit on who ought to control Congress. Partisans are about equally likely to say they’d like to see their own in charge of Congress after November 4, with about three-quarters in each party saying they hope their side winds up in control. Democrats are a bit less apt to say they want their own party to win than they were in May, 74 percent in the new poll compared with 80 percent then.

And the GOP now holds narrow advantages over Democrats on handling an array of top issues, including the economy, immigration and the federal budget.

But neither party is trusted much to manage the federal government, with 27 percent having faith in the GOP to 24 percent in Democrats. More people, 31 percent, say they trust neither party to run the federal government.

Fewer people have confidence in the federal government’s ability to make progress on the important problems and issues facing the country in 2014 than at the start of the year, with 74 percent saying they have little or no confidence. That’s a slight change from the 70 percent who said so in a December AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey. That shift in confidence stems from a small drop-off among Democrats. While 56 percent lacked confidence in December, 62 percent say the same now.

Overall, few express faith in those currently on Capitol Hill. Just 36 percent say they’d like to see their own member of Congress re-elected, 62 percent say they want someone else to win this November. So far, just three House incumbents have been ousted in primaries this year, and none in the Senate. The Congressional approval rating, 13 percent in the new poll, lags behind President Barack Obama’s 40 percent.

Though the economy pushed the nation’s “right direction” figures to historic lows in the fall of 2008, that does not seem to be the culprit in the new poll. About a third (35 percent) say the economy is in good shape, about the same as in May, and 58 percent say the economy has stayed about the same in the past month.

The decline in optimism about the country’s path in the new poll seems to mirror those in October 2013 and August 2011, when congressional inaction led to the threat of a government shutdown in 2011 and a partial one in 2013. Among Democrats, the share saying the nation is heading in the right direction dipped 11 points since May, to 49 percent, while among independents, it’s down slightly to 23 percent. Among Republicans, the 9 percent saying the country is heading the right way is similar to May. The October 2013 and August 2011 declines in right direction were also driven by sharp drops among Democrats and independents.

Among those who say they are highly likely to vote this fall, just 8 percent say they approve of the way Congress is handling its job, though 43 percent would like to see their member of Congress re-elected, a bit higher than among all adults. Republicans have an edge among this group as the party more preferred to control Congress, 43 percent to 34 percent, with 23 percent saying it doesn’t matter.

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted July 24-28, 2014, using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based online panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,044 adults and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points for all respondents. It is larger for subgroups.

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

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Online:

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

 


AP-GfK Poll: No agreement on how to pay for highways

By JOAN LOWY and JENNIFER AGIESTA, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Small wonder Congress has kept federal highway and transit programs teetering on the edge of insolvency for years, unable to find a politically acceptable long-term source of funds. The public can’t make up its mind on how to pay for them either.

Six in 10 Americans think the economic benefits of good highways, railroads and airports outweigh the cost to taxpayers. Yet there is scant support for some of the most frequently discussed options for paying for construction of new roads or the upkeep of existing ones, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll.

Among those who drive places multiple times per week, 62 percent say the benefits outweigh the costs. Among those who drive less than once a week or not at all, 55 percent say the costs of road improvement are worthwhile.

Yet a majority of all Americans — 58 percent — oppose raising federal gasoline taxes to fund transportation projects such as the repair, replacement or expansion of roads and bridges. Only 14 percent support an increase. And by a better than 2-to-1 margin, Americans oppose having private companies pay for construction of new roads and bridges in exchange for the right to charge tolls. Moving to a usage tax based on how many miles a vehicle drives also draws more opposition than support — 40 percent oppose it, while 20 percent support it.

Support for shifting more responsibility for paying for such projects to state and local government is a tepid 30 percent.

“Congress is actually reflecting what people want,” said Joshua Schank, president and CEO of the Eno Center for Transportation, a transportation think tank. “People want to have a federal (transportation) program and they don’t want to pay for it.”

Last week, Congress cobbled together $10.8 billion to keep transportation aid flowing to states by changing how employers fund worker pension programs, extending customs user fees and transferring money from a fund to repair leaking underground fuel storage tanks. The money was needed to make up a shortfall between aid promised to states and revenue raised by the federal 18.4 cents-per-gallon gas tax and the 24.4 cents-per-gallon diesel tax, which haven’t been increased in more than 20 years.

It’s the fifth time in the last six years that Congress has patched a hole in the federal Highway Trust Fund that pays for highway and transit aid. Each time it gets more difficult for lawmakers to find the money without increasing the federal budget deficit. Critics described the pension funding changes used this time as budget gimmicks that would cost the government more in the long run and undermine employee pension programs.

The latest patch cleared Congress about three hours before midnight last Thursday, the day before the Transportation Department said it would begin cutting back aid payments to states. The current fix is only expected to cover the revenue gap through next May, when Congress will be back where it started unless lawmakers act sooner.

The most direct solution would be to raise fuel taxes. That’s what three blue-ribbon federal commissions have recommended. But opposition to a gas tax increase cuts across party lines, although Republicans are more apt to oppose an increase, 70 percent, than Democrats, 52 percent.

“Every time we turn around there’s another tax, and our gas taxes are so high now,” said James Lane, 52, of Henry County in rural south-central Virginia, who described himself as leaning toward the GOP.

Lane favors allowing companies to pay for the construction of new or expanded roads and bridges in exchange for the right impose tolls on motorists, often for many decades. There have been projects like that in Virginia, but since those roads are in more populated areas of the state where he doesn’t drive it makes sense to have the people who use them pay for them, he said.

But Michael Murphy, 63, a data services contractor who lives near San Antonio, Texas, where a high-speed public-private toll road is scheduled to open this fall, said he’d rather see gas taxes increased than tolls imposed on drivers. Roads benefit everyone, even if indirectly, so it’s only fair that everyone who drives pays something toward their cost, he said.

A majority of those surveyed, 56 percent, say traffic in the area where they live has gotten worse in the last five years. Only 6 percent say traffic has improved in their area, and 33 percent that it’s stayed about the same.

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted July 24-28 using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based online panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,044 adults. It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points for all respondents, larger for subgroups.

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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Online:

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

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Follow Joan Lowy on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/AP_Joan_Lowy