By LIZ SIDOTI, Associated Press

Quick: What do these things have in common? Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi. The Japanese earthquake and tsunami. Wall Street volatility. A cranky, even angry American populace.

Answer: They all have something to do with gasoline. No matter what happens in the world today, just about everything points back to fuel and the tricky politics that emerge when prices spike.

Is it any wonder, then, that a recent Associated Press-GfK poll shows a correlation between the country’s more pessimistic outlook and rising gas prices.

The issue also has taken on greater importance to Americans. They rank it above subjects including Iraq, Afghanistan, immigration, terrorism and taxes. Last fall, 54 percent called gas prices a highly important issue to them personally, but 77 percent said that in the latest poll.

Many don’t expect relief from soaring gas costs anytime soon: Two-thirds say they expect the higher prices will cause financial hardship for them or their families in the next six months. That group includes more than a third who say gas cost spikes will cause serious financial hardship. And that is on top of a still-poor economy.

Most are changing the way they live. Three-fourths are cutting back on other expenses, two-thirds are driving less, half plan to vacation closer to home, and almost as many have thought seriously about buying a more fuel-efficient vehicle. Most also are bypassing the most convenient gas station to bargain shop for the lowest prices.

GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications conducted the poll from March 24-28. 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.

The underlying links between current events aren’t lost on President Barack Obama, and for good reason. Like death and taxes, this cycle is a certainty: Prices at the pump rise, the public’s mood falls and the president gets punished.

Listen to him when he pressed recently for reducing the nation’s oil imports by one-third by 2025.

“Obviously, the situation in the Middle East implicates our energy security. The situation in Japan leads us to ask questions about our energy sources. In an economy that relies so heavily on oil, rising prices at the pump affect everybody,” Obama said. “Businesses see rising prices at the pump hurt their bottom line. Families feel the pinch when they fill up their tank. And for Americans that are already struggling to get by, a hike in gas prices really makes their lives that much harder. It hurts.”

Sure, that’s true. But there’s also much more to it. In an era in which globalization is a given, gas prices are the most obvious, most closely felt connection between the daily lives of Americans and the larger world.

“Whenever gasoline prices spike, there is enormous political consternation because it’s a highly invasive issue,” said Pietro Nivola, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who studies energy policy and American politics.

Has there been a time in modern history when that’s been more apparent than the past few weeks?

Look at what’s happened.

—Populist uprisings swept across oil-rich North Africa, from Tunisia to Egypt and now to Libya, where rebels are in a standoff with Gadhafi that has shut down much of the country’s 1.6 million barrels a day of crude exports. Energy traders fear unrest will spread further across the region and disrupt shipments from bigger producers like Saudi Arabia and Iran. That could limit supply when demand is high, boosting costs.

—An earthquake and tsunami in Japan last month triggered a nuclear emergency, with the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear plant leaking radiation. The reactor’s near meltdown has renewed debate in the United States over nuclear fuel and raised questions about the vulnerability of some U.S. plants.

—Oil surged to a 30-month high — more than $100 a barrel — as investors worried that the unrest in Libya and elsewhere would keep crude exports from oil-producing nations off the market longer than expected. On Wall Street, key indexes fluctuated as oil prices soared.

—Consumer confidence dropped at a troublesome time, just as the post-recession economy was struggling to recover. Gas costs were the reason. Experts say if people are forced to pay more for gasoline, they’re likely not to spend elsewhere and that could further slow already sluggish economic growth.

And none of that even takes into account last year’s Gulf Coast oil spill.

Even if there’s no proven cause and effect between the latest turn of events, there’s a commonality that’s not lost on experts and consumers alike.

“It’s a combination of trends and luck that have put energy repeatedly at the forefront,” said Michael Levi, director of the program on energy security and climate change at the Council on Foreign Relations. “We always are going to be dealing with energy in some form or another because it’s the lifeblood of society.”

The poll also indicated a disconnect between expectations and reality. Consumers on average said $2.36 per gallon was a fair price for gas, but the national average was $3.65 during the week the survey was taken.

Albert Mercado, a restaurant employee from Wallingford, Pa., is among those feeling more than just a pinch.

“When I swipe my card at the gas pump, it stops at $75 and I’m nowhere near full,” says the owner of a 2004 Ford Explorer, who lives outside Philadelphia. He adds: “I have not been driving as much.” He now limits his travels to and from work, his son’s day care and their home. He saves rather than spends. He hasn’t visited his parents, who live a three-hour drive away in New York, for a long time.

And Mercado, 44, has little hope that costs will fall anytime soon. After all, he says, he once worked at a gas station and knows how the price game is played. “Something’s got to change. I doubt it will,” he said.

So far, Obama’s overall political standing isn’t suffering; it’s held steady for months at about 50 percent. Even so, his job performance rating on handling the issue of gas prices is at just 36 percent, his lowest rating on any issue tracked in the poll.

“What’s different this time is the U.S. economy is still fragile,” Nivola said. “If we had a sustained gasoline hike, it would be like imposing a substantial tax on the economy at a very inopportune moment.”

Eventually, consumers will look for someone to fault if gas prices remain high. Obama’s the likely target, and Republicans are trying to hasten the blame game.

“His war on domestic oil and gas exploration and production has caused us pain at the pump, endangered our already sluggish economic recovery, and threatened our national security,” said Sarah Palin, the former Alaska governor and 2008 vice presidential candidate who is considering a White House run of her own. “The good news is there is nothing wrong with America’s energy policy that another good old-fashioned election can’t solve. 2012 is just around the corner.”

History, however, offers no certainty that a different president would dramatically change how Americans deal with energy.

For decades, a national energy policy has proven elusive because Republicans and Democrats sharply differ over how to make America closer to energy independent. Progress has been impeded by not-in-my-backyard fights over nuclear plants and wind farms, battles over drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and nuclear waste disposal at Yucca Mountain, and election-year sloganeering.

The same cycle has persisted. Gas prices rise, Americans complain and politicians raise alarms.

Consider the words that came out of one president’s mouth: “This country needs to regain its independence from foreign sources of energy, and the sooner the better.” That was Republican Gerald Ford — in 1975.

Nearly four decades later, Obama said: “As long as our economy depends on foreign oil, we’ll always be subject to price spikes.”

He’s probably not the last president who will give voice to that notion, given the complexities of the issue. As Levi puts it: “The nature of energy is that it matters because it gets entangled with so many other things. But those other entanglements are what make it precisely so difficult to deal with.”

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EDITOR’S NOTE — Liz Sidoti has covered national politics for The Associated Press since 2003.

Online:

http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com

 

How the poll was conducted

 

By The Associated Press

The Associated Press-GfK Poll on gas prices was conducted by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications from Mar. 24-28. 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:

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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AP Polling Editor Emily Swanson contributed to this report.

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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.

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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.

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Online:

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