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.”

___

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 shows voter distaste for Putin-style leadership
WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump has called Russian President Vladimir Putin “a leader — unlike what we have in this country.”

But most Americans don’t agree with Trump’s assessment of Putin’s leadership skills, a new Associated Press-GfK poll shows.

Only 24 percent of registered voters say Putin has leadership qualities that would be good for an American president to share, while 71 percent say he does not. In fact, a majority, 56 percent, said they have an unfavorable view of Putin, while only 10 percent said they view the Russian leader favorably.

 Voters were split on whether Trump would be too close to Putin, with 42 percent saying they think Trump would be too close, and 41 percent saying his approach would be about right. Fourteen percent think he would not be close enough.
By comparison, most voters (53 percent) think Democrat Hillary Clinton’s relationship with Putin would be about right, while 11 percent think she would be too close and 32 percent think she would not be close enough.

The relationship between the Republican nominee and the Russian strongman began taking on new life when Putin praised Trump last December as “bright and talented” and “the absolute leader of the presidential race.”

The billionaire businessman hailed Putin’s regard for him as a “great honor,” brushing off widespread allegations that the Russian president has ordered the killing of political dissidents and journalists.

“Our country does plenty of killing also,” Trump told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” in December.

Four in 10 Trump supporters and only 1 in 10 Hillary Clinton supporters say Putin has leadership qualities that would be good for an American president to have. Still, even among Trump’s supporters, just 16 percent have a favorable opinion of Putin. Only 5 percent of Clinton’s supporters do.

Marissa Garth, a 28-year-old stay-at-home mom from Smithfield, Utah, said she plans to vote for Trump this November because he exhibits the qualities of a strong leader — not to be compared with Putin.

“I think (Putin) is a strong leader for his country,” she said. “But at the same time I don’t think he necessarily has the qualities that I would want as a president.”

In fact, the poll finds that men are more likely than women to say that Putin has leadership qualities that would be good in an American president, 28 percent to 19 percent.

Among Clinton’s supporters, 69 percent say Trump would be too close to Putin. Forty-nine percent of those supporting another candidate share that view, but only 8 percent of Trump supporters say their candidate would be too close to Putin. Eighty percent of Trump supporters say his approach would be about right. Among conservatives, 20 percent say Trump would be too close to Putin.

There is nothing 54-year old Gary Sellers, of Homewood, Illinois, likes about Putin — or Trump. He called Putin a “dictator,” adding, “there are no qualities of his that I wish that an American president would have.”

A lukewarm Clinton supporter, he’s concerned that Trump shares Putin’s extreme views of governing. “I feel he has a dictatorial approach toward being president of the United States,” Sellers said of Trump.

Forty-seven percent of voters say they approve and 52 percent disapprove of President Barack Obama’s handling of the U.S. relationship with Russia.

Voters are divided over whether the next president should take a tougher approach to Putin (42 percent) or whether the current approach is about right (39 percent). Just 16 percent think the next president should take a friendlier approach.

Just under half of voters (48 percent) say the U.S. relationship with Russia is a very or extremely important issue, ranking it low on Americans’ list of priorities, far below issues like the economy (92 percent), the threat posed by the Islamic State group (70 percent), the U.S. role in world affairs more generally (68 percent) and immigration (60 percent).

There’s a generational divide over Russia. Two-thirds of voters age 65 and over and more than half of those between 50 and 64 call the U.S. relationship with Russia very or extremely important, while only 4 in 10 30-49 year olds and only a third of those under 30 say the same.

Generally speaking, voters are more likely to say they trust Clinton than Trump on negotiating with Russia, 40 percent to 33 percent. Nineteen percent say they trust neither and 7 percent trust both equally.

John Eppenger, 68, a retiree in Fairfield, Ala., said that when it comes to dealing with Russia, Clinton would “do a much better job than Trump. She’s not perfect, she’s not ideal, but she’s better.”

___

The AP-GfK Poll of 1,694 adults, including 1,476 registered voters, was conducted online Sept. 15-19, 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 2.5 percentage points, and for registered voters is plus or minus 2.5 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.

___

Online:

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


AP-GfK Poll: Majority of Americans fear Trump presidency

By JONATHAN LEMIRE and EMILY SWANSON

NEW YORK (AP) — More than half the country fears a Trump presidency. And only about a third of Americans believe he is at least somewhat qualified to serve in the White House.

In the final sprint to Election Day, a new Associated Press-GfK poll underscores those daunting roadblocks for Donald Trump as he tries to overtake Hillary Clinton.

Moreover, most voters oppose the hard-line approach to immigration that is a centerpiece of the billionaire businessman’s campaign. They are more likely to trust Clinton to handle a variety of issues facing the country, and Trump has no advantage on the national security topics also at the forefront of his bid.

Trump undoubtedly has a passionate base of support, seen clearly among the thousands of backers who fill the stands at his signature rallies. But most people don’t share that fervor. Only 29 percent of registered voters would be excited and just 24 percent would be proud should Trump prevail in November.

Only one in four voters find him even somewhat civil or compassionate, and just a third say he’s not at all racist.

“We as Americans should be embarrassed about Donald Trump,” said Michael DeLuise, 66, a retired university vice president and registered Republican who lives in Eugene, Oregon. “We as Americans have always been able to look at the wacky leaders of other countries and say ‘Phew, that’s not us.’ We couldn’t if Trump wins. It’s like putting P.T. Barnum in charge. And it’s getting dangerous.”

To be sure, the nation is sour on Clinton, too. Only 39 percent of voters have a favorable view of the Democratic nominee, compared to the 56 percent who view her unfavorably. Less than a third say they would be excited or proud should she move into the White House.

“I think she’s an extremely dishonest person and have extreme disdain for her and her husband,” said one registered Republican, Denise Pettitte, 36, from Watertown, Wisconsin. “I think it would be wonderful to elect a woman, but a different woman.”

But as poorly as voters may view Clinton, they think even less of Trump.

Forty-four percent say they would be afraid if Clinton, the former secretary of state, is elected, far less than say the same of Trump. He’s viewed more unfavorably than favorably by a 61 percent to 34 percent margin, and more say their unfavorable opinion of the New Yorker is a strong one than say the same of Clinton, 50 percent to 44 percent.

That deep distain for both candidates prompts three-quarters of voters to say that a big reason they’ll be casting their ballot is to stop someone, rather than elect someone.

“It’s not really a vote for her as it’s a vote against Trump,” said Mark Corbin, 59, a business administrator and registered Democrat from Media, Pennsylvania.

Roughly half of voters see Clinton at least somewhat qualified, while just 30 percent say Trump is.

Even when it comes to what may be Clinton’s greatest weakness, the perception that she is dishonest, Trump fails to perform much better: 71 percent say she’s only slightly or not at all honest, while 66 percent say the same of Trump. Forty-nine percent say Clinton is at least somewhat corrupt, but 43 percent say that of Trump.

“Whatever her problems are, they don’t even come close to him,” said JoAnn Dinkelman, 66, a Republican from Rancho Cucamonga, California, who will cross party lines and vote for Clinton. “Everything that comes out of his mouth that is fact-checked turns out to be a lie.”

Trump finds no respite with voters when it comes to what he vows to do as president, either.

Nearly 6 in 10 oppose his promise to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico, and only 21 percent of his supporters and 9 percent of registered voters overall are very confident he would succeed at fulfilling his promise that Mexico would pay for the construction.

Six in 10 believe there should be a way for immigrants living in the country illegally to become U.S. citizens — a view that Trump opposes.

“The wall isn’t the answer. It’s not feasible and Mexico won’t pay for it,” said Timothy Seitz, 26, a graduate student at the Ohio State University and a Republican. “We should be leaders. We shouldn’t cower from others and cut ourselves off in the world.”

Beyond immigration, voters say they trust Clinton over Trump by wide margins when it comes to health care, race relations and negotiations with Russia. She also narrowly tops Trump when it comes to filling Supreme Court vacancies, as well as another of the billionaire’s signature issues: handling international trade.

Trump is narrowly favored on creating jobs, 39 percent to 35 percent, while in general, voters are about equally split on which candidate would better handle the economy. Voters are slightly more likely to trust Trump than Clinton on handling gun laws, 39 percent to 35 percent.

Voters are closely split on which candidate would better handle protecting the country and evenly divided on which would better handle the threat posed by the Islamic State group. And Americans are much more likely to say they trust Clinton than Trump to do a better job handling the U.S. image abroad.

___

The AP-GfK Poll of 1,694 adults, including 1,476 registered voters, was conducted online Sept. 15-19, 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 2.5 percentage points, and for registered voters plus or minus 2.7 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.

___

Online:

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