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: 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


AP-GfK poll: Americans ready to close the book on wars in Iraq, Afghanistan

By DEB RIECHMANN, Associated Press

 WASHINGTON (AP) — Three in four Americans think history will judge the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as failures, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll that shows that about the same percentage think it was right to pull forces from the two countries.

Americans surveyed in last month’s poll were not optimistic about the chance that a stable democratic government will be established in either country. Seventy-eight percent said it was either not too likely or not at all likely in Afghanistan and 80 percent said the same about Iraq.

Roughly three out of four Americans polled think that in hindsight, each war will be deemed as an outright “complete failure” or “more of a failure than success.”

A majority of those polled, or 70 percent, said the United States was right to withdraw American troops from Iraq in 2011 and pull most U.S. forces out of Afghanistan by December. The two conflicts have consumed the nation for more than a decade and claimed the lives of 6,800 U.S. troops.

Nelson Philip, 73, of Oswego, Illinois, is of two minds. He judges the Afghan war a failure, but wants U.S. troops to stay in countries that remain in turmoil.

“What’s so successful about it? We didn’t do anything there. The Taliban. They’re still there. We haven’t done anything and now we’re pulling everybody out of there,” Philip said. “And now this Islamic group is over there taking over Iraq.”

The situations in Afghanistan and Iraq are distinct. But in each, the U.S. has spent more than a decade trying to set up democratic governments that could effectively police their own territories and stamp out threats to the American homeland. And in both countries that objective is in peril — their futures threatened by a combination of poor leadership, weak institutions, interethnic rivalry, insurgencies and extremist rebellions.

Americans surveyed in the poll think more bad news is on the horizon.

Fifty percent — up 18 points in the past seven months — think the situation in Afghanistan will get worse. Fifty-eight percent — up from 16 percent in December 2009 — expect conditions in Iraq will worsen. The poll was conducted shortly after Sunni extremists conducted an offensive that shattered security in Iraq.

The rapid advance by the extremist Islamic State group, which captured Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, and overran much of northern and western Iraq, has plunged the country into its worst crisis since the withdrawal of U.S. troops at the end of 2011.

Melody Fisher, a 58-year-old midwife from Prescott, Ariz., was among the roughly 25 percent who didn’t think it was time yet for American troops to return from Afghanistan, where about 2,340 U.S. servicemen and women have been killed. She said she wasn’t convinced that the U.S. had finished its work there.

“I used to work with refuges so I’m very aware of the conditions that people have to live in,” said Fisher, a midwife who spent time helping resettle Cambodian refugees. “Our country, our nation, has no idea about the day-to-day things that people have to go through in many places.”

People over 50 expressed far more pessimism about the ultimate outcome of the two conflicts than their younger counterparts.

Sixty-two percent of those over 50 said the situation in Afghanistan would get worse in the coming year, compared with 40 percent of younger Americans. On Iraq, that gap is even larger, with 72 percent age 50 or older expecting things to get worse compared with 47 percent of those under age 50.

Older Americans also are more likely to think the U.S. war in Afghanistan will be judged a failure in the future; 86 percent of those 50 or older feel that way, compared with 64 percent among those under age 50. They are also more likely to doubt that a stable democratic government will be established there; 88 percent age 50 or older say it’s unlikely to happen compared with 70 percent age 18 to 49.

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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Associated Press director of polling Jennifer Agiesta in Washington contributed to this report.

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Online:

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