By TOM RAUM, Associated Press

 WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama’s approval ratings for handling foreign policy issues generally top his ratings for most domestic issues, including the economy and health care, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll. But the poll also suggests a majority of Americans want the president to pull troops out of Afghanistan faster than he’s doing, and many are skeptical about a tentative nuclear deal with Iran.

 The poll found that 57 percent now say going to war in Afghanistan after the 2001 terror attacks was probably the “wrong thing to do.” And 53 percent say the pace of the planned withdrawal is too slow, 34 percent said the pace was just about right and 10 percent said it was too fast. All combat troops are scheduled to leave by the end of 2014.

 Meanwhile, six in 10 Americans approve of the preliminary deal between Iran and six global powers to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions. But that support is soft and many doubt it will lead to concrete results.

Even though he garners more disapproval than approval on the handling of Afghanistan and Iran, Obama generally gets better ratings on foreign policy than on domestic issues.

Nearly half (49 percent) approve of his handling of U.S. relations with other countries while 50 percent disapprove. In contrast, just 40 percent approve of his handling of the economy, while 59 percent disapprove. And on health care, the approval rating stands at 39 percent, with 61 percent disapproving. His overall job approval is at 42 percent, with 58 disapproving.

The slightly higher ratings on foreign policy generally make sense, suggested Philip Salathe, 70, of Indianapolis, who participated in the poll.

Salathe said Obama in 2008 ran against Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who during the campaign joked about dropping bombs on Iran. “I figure we could fix the economy if it gets ruined and we can repeal any bad laws that get passed,” Salathe said, but a military confrontation with Iran or other foreign policy crisis could have more disastrous consequences.

Salathe approves of the job Obama is doing overall but still thinks things are headed in the wrong direction. “We’re not doing anything about the major problems facing humanity. Basically, we have a number of disparate goals that are at odds with each other,” such as protecting the environment while promoting growth and urban development. He said Obama is the first Democrat he’s voted for as president. He said he tends to favor Republicans.

Just 16 percent of those polled said they expected the situation in Afghanistan to “get better” over the next year; 32 percent said they expected it to “get worse” while about half said they expected the situation to “stay about the same.”

Jennifer Reese, 28, of Burnsville, Minn., considers herself a Democrat and says she voted for Obama. But she questions whether he’s the cause for the economy getting better.

“I think the economy is getting better, but I don’t think it’s necessarily because of what Obama’s doing,” she said. “That’s the way things work. When things go down so far, then they’re going to go back up.”

She said she also believes both parties could do an equally good job protecting the country and that the pace of allied troop withdrawal from Afghanistan is “about right.” She favors a continued presence of allied troops in the country to train and assist Afghan troops. “My family was in the military. My father was over there for a while and he says they’re doing good things.”

As for negotiations with Iran on curbing its nuclear program, Reese says she is pleased Iran is at the bargaining table. “Let’s negotiate this, see what we can do,” she said.

The poll showed Americans broadly approve of a tentative deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program. Fifty-nine percent approved, 38 percent disapproved.

But that support was tentative, with more than 4 in 10 (44 percent) also saying it’s unlikely the agreement will keep Iran from seeking to build its own nuclear weapon. Just 11 percent think that outcome is extremely or very likely.

Mark Dabney, 54, of Cartersville, Ga., who describes himself as a political independent who supports the tea party movement, disapproves of Obama’s performance on both domestic and foreign policy fronts.

As for Iraq and Afghanistan, “I just believe that we shouldn’t go meddling in other countries’ internal affairs,” he said.

The AP-GfK poll was conducted Dec. 5-9 using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based online panel. For results based on all 1,367 adults, the margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

KnowledgePanel is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods, and later, completed this survey online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have Internet access were provided with access at no cost.

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Associated Press Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta and AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.

Online:

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

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Follow Tom Raum on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/tomraum

AP-GfK POLL: PARENTS UNCOMFORTABLE WITH YOUTH FOOTBALL

Parents are worried about their children playing football, but most haven’t decided to keep their kids from putting on a helmet and stepping onto the field.

According to an Associated Press-GfK poll, nearly half of parents said they’re not comfortable letting their child play football amid growing uncertainty about the long-term impact of concussions.

In the poll, 44 percent of parents weren’t comfortable with their child playing football. The same percentage was uncomfortable with ice hockey, and 45 percent were uncomfortable with participation in wrestling. Only five percent, though, said they have discouraged their child from playing in the last two years as concern over head injuries has increased at all levels of the game.

The majority of parents said they are comfortable with participation in a host of other sports — including swimming, track and field, basketball, soccer, baseball and softball, among others.

The AP-GfK poll was conducted from July 24-28. It included interviews with 1,044 adults and has a sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

The parents’ concern comes as several high-profile lawsuits have challenged how concussions have been addressed in pro and college sports. Thousands of pro players sued the NFL and a $675 million settlement that would compensate them for concussion-related claims is pending. A tentative settlement with the NCAA, meanwhile, would create a $70 million fund to test thousands of current and former college athletes for brain trauma.

Youth and high school programs have increased training available for coaches, and helmet companies are releasing new designs with the hope that they reduce the force of impact. But research is murky about whether or not they will be effective.

Participation statistics also show only a slight decline in the overall number of high school students playing football.

According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, nearly 1.1 million students played 11-man football during the 2012-13 school year. The number was down approximately 10,000 from the year before and more than 20,000 since 2009-08.

Cathy Curtin, a high school rifle coach in northeast Pennsylvania, is one parent who has discouraged her children from playing football in recent years.

Curtin, 52, has gone through concussion-related training for her job, but one issue that concerns her is how much of identifying a head injury relies on the student’s input following a collision. She said her 21-year-old son “would have said anything” to remain in the game while in high school, including hiding symptoms such as dizziness from a trainer or coach.

“Our training staff is good, but you can’t always know,” Curtin said. “You’re basing whether they can play on their say. And they are 16-year-old kids, 17-year-old kids who want more than anything to get out there and play.”

Curtin said her younger son broke his collarbone and leg while playing football as a freshman.

“Nowhere in that time did they check him for a concussion,” Curtin said. “So, if he got hit hard enough to break his collar bone and his leg, then how hard did he hit the ground, too?”

Football wasn’t the only sport Curtin said she was uncomfortable with. She also worries about hockey, wrestling and other high-impact competitions such as gymnastics and cheerleading. She’s encouraged by new advances — such as chin straps that change color when a player may have suffered a concussion — aimed at reducing and identifying head injuries, but she is also skeptical about school districts’ ability to afford new helmets.

JeMare Williams, 43, is no stranger to the possibility of getting a concussion while playing football. He thinks he “probably” suffered from one while in high school in St. Louis.

“I don’t really know, but I remember being hurt, being dizzy,” Williams said. “But during that time, there wasn’t a specific diagnosis like now.”

Now living in Henderson, Nevada, and with 17- and 11-year-old sons who play the game, Williams — an auto mechanic — has the same injury concerns as many parents. That said, he’s comfortable with his sons playing football — or any other sport they choose.

One of the primary reasons for Williams’ comfort level is because of the increased attention paid to head injuries over the last few years. He said coaches are trained more closely now to teach proper tackling techniques, as well as watch players for signs of concussions.

“There’s a lot of publicity on (concussions) now, and I think that makes it better,” Williams said. “So, I’m not as worried now.”


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