By CHARLES BABINGTON and JENNIFER AGIESTA, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Heading into a congressional election year, Americans hold Congress in strikingly low regard, and nearly two-thirds say they would like to see their House member replaced, a new poll finds.

Even though Americans are feeling somewhat better about the economy — and their personal finances — elected officials in Washington aren’t benefiting from the improved mood, the Associated Press-GfK poll found.

President Barack Obama’s approval rating was negative: 58 percent disapprove of the job he’s doing as president, while 42 percent approve.

Obama isn’t running for office again, however, whereas all 435 House seats and one-third of the Senate’s seats are on the ballot next November. And nearly 9 in 10 adults disapprove of the way lawmakers are handling their jobs.

The low opinions of Congress don’t necessarily signal major power shifts next year in the Republican-controlled House and Democratic-controlled Senate. House Democrats need to gain at least 17 net seats to claim the majority. But many House districts are so solidly liberal or conservative that incumbents can withstand notable drops in popularity and keep their seats.

Republicans hope to gain six Senate seats overall to retake control of that chamber for the last two years of Obama’s presidency.

On one major issue, most Americans continue to favor providing a path to legal status for millions of immigrants living here illegally. Fifty-five percent support it, and 43 percent oppose. The Senate passed a major immigration bill that would provide a legalization path. But the House has sidelined the issue so far.

Despite the relatively low opinions of Congress and Obama, the national mood is not quite as bleak as it was in October, when partisan stalemate led to a 16-day partial government shutdown and fears of a possible default.

More Americans now say things are heading in the right direction and the economy is improving, the AP-GfK poll found. But those figures are still fairly anemic, below 40 percent.

Congressional approval stands at 13 percent, with 86 percent of adults disapproving. That sentiment holds across party lines: 86 percent of Democrats, 88 percent of Republicans and 84 percent of independents disapprove.

Democrats have a slim edge as the party Americans would prefer to control Congress, 39 percent to 33 percent. But a sizable 27 percent say it doesn’t matter who’s in charge.

In a sign of public discontent, 62 percent of registered voters say they’d like someone new to win their congressional district next year, while 37 percent support their incumbent’s re-election.

That’s a worrisome trend for incumbents’ campaigns. Four years ago, polls by NBC News/Wall Street Journal and Marist found fewer than half of Americans wanting their own representative ousted.

When elected officials are dropped from the equation, the public mood brightens a bit, the new poll found. The share of adults saying things in this country are heading in the right direction has climbed 12 percentage points since the government shutdown, to 34 percent. Still, almost twice as many, 66 percent, say things are heading the wrong way.

Independents, who can be crucial in general elections when persuaded to vote, share the modestly growing optimism. Whereas 82 percent of independents said the country was headed in the wrong direction in October, the number now is 69 percent.

Ratings of the economy have also improved since October. Still, 68 percent of adults say the U.S. economy is in bad shape, down slightly from 73 percent in October.

More adults now say they expect improvement in their household’s financial standing in the coming year: 30 percent, compared with 24 percent in October. More also say it’s a good time to make major purchases, although the number is an unimpressive 19 percent.

Megan Barnes of Columbia, Md., is among those who see an uptick in their own finances but give scant credit to politicians.

“I think the economy seems to be fairly stable, and for my family in the future, it’s going to be OK,” said Barnes, 32, a stay-at-home mom married to a software engineer.

She said she strongly disapproves of Congress and leans toward disapproval of Obama.

In Congress, Barnes said, “I’d like to see people put their jobs on the line to get things done, and not worry about the next election.” A moderate Republican, Barnes said she would like to see someone replace her congressman, Democratic Rep. Elijah Cummings.

As for Obama, she said it’s troubling that he seemed to know little about the National Security Agency’s spying on international allies or the serious problems in the rollout of his sweeping health care law. “He also doesn’t seem to really work with the Congress a lot, even with his own party, to build consensus and get things done,” Barnes said.

Americans have grown skeptical of some of the personal attributes the president relied on to win re-election in 2012. The new poll finds just 41 percent think he’s decisive, 44 percent see him as strong and 45 percent call him inspiring. On honesty, he’s lost ground since October. Now, 56 percent say the word “honest” does not describe Obama well.

Nearly half of American adults have an unfavorable impression of Obama, and 46 percent have a favorable impression.

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted Dec. 5-9 using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based online panel. It involved online interviews with 1,367 adults. The survey has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points for all respondents.

Using probability sampling methods, KnowledgePanel is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. Respondents to the survey were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods and were later interviewed for this survey 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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Associated Press News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.

 

AP-GfK Poll: Doubts about Clinton’s honesty after emails

WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans appear to be suspicious of Hillary Rodham Clinton’s honesty, and even many Democrats are only lukewarm about her presidential candidacy, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll.

Is she strong and decisive? Yes, say a majority of people. But inspiring and likable? Only a minority think so.

Clinton’s struggles to explain her email practices while in government, along with questions about the Clinton Foundation and Republican criticism of her openness, wealth and trustworthiness seem to have struck a nerve in the public’s perception of the dominant Democratic figure in the 2016 campaign. In the survey, 61 percent said “honest” describes her only slightly well or not at all.

Nearly four in 10 Democrats, and more than six in 10 independents agreed that “honest” was not the best word for her.

Even so, she is viewed more favorably than her potential Republican rivals, none of whom are as well-known as the former secretary of state, senator and first lady.

With Clinton facing little competition on the Democratic side, Republicans are trying to make questions about her integrity central to the early 2016 campaign. They paint her as a creature of Washington who flouts the rules to get ahead.

Her use of a private email account run from a server kept at her New York home while serving as secretary of state has fed perceptions that she had things to hide. And questions are swirling about foreign donations to the family’s charitable foundation and whether that money influenced her work at the State Department.

James Robins, an independent voter from North Carolina, says his generally positive opinion of Clinton has shifted over the past few months, as more details have emerged about her email usage and foundation fundraising practices.

“She and her family think they’re above everything,” he said. “She intentionally destroyed all the evidence on that server. And when you look at some of her other stuff recently it’s equally as bad.”

Clinton said last month that she used a personal account out of convenience. She deleted about 30,000 emails that she has described as personal in nature and has declined requests from congressional Republicans to turn over her server for an independent review.

The survey suggests that many Americans aren’t buying Clinton’s explanation: A majority said they believe she used a private address to shield her emails from transparency laws and they think she should turn her server over to a third party for further investigation.

At the same time, the public is split over whether her email usage is a significant issue for her presidential aspirations: Less than a third — 32 percent — said it was a major problem, 36 percent rated it a minor problem, and 31 percent said it’s not a problem at all. Only 20 percent said they’re paying very close attention to the email story.

“We don’t have the whole picture and all the information that we need to make a judgment,” said Ruth Johnson, of Moorhead, Minnesota. “Will she show everything that was emailed? Or has she eliminated a lot of stuff we’ll never know about?”

Still, Clinton’s overall ratings remain the strongest in the emerging presidential field and are essentially unchanged since two AP-GfK polls conducted last year. Forty-six percent of Americans express a favorable view of Clinton, slightly more than the 41 percent who express a negative opinion. No potential Republican candidate in the poll had greater positive than negative ratings.

Polls generally showed Clinton with a much higher approval rating while she was secretary of state. Opinions of her have become more polarized as she has re-entered partisan politics, as they were when she vied for the Democratic nomination for president in 2008.

Despite Clinton’s dominance in the early primary field, the survey suggests that some in her party would be open to a challenger.

Among Democrats, only 34 percent said they were excited by her candidacy while 36 percent described themselves as merely satisfied. Another 19 percent said they were neutral, and 9 percent were disappointed or angry.

“I wish there was somebody else,” said Kenneth Berger, of New York City. “She always has a problem.”

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The AP-GfK Poll of 1,077 adults was conducted online April 23-27, 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 3.4 percentage points.

Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods, and later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were provided access at no cost to them.

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Online:

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


AP-GfK Poll: Americans approve of drone strikes on terrorists

WASHINGTON (AP) — Nearly three-quarters of Americans say it’s acceptable for the U.S. to use an unmanned aerial drone to kill an American citizen abroad if that person has joined a terror organization, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll.

A majority, 6 in 10, supports the use of drones to target terrorists in general. Only 13 percent oppose the use of drones, the poll said, and another 24 percent don’t feel strongly either way.

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted April 23-27, in the days after President Barack Obama publicly apologized for a CIA drone strike in Pakistan that inadvertently killed American hostage Warren Weinstein and Italian hostage Giovanni Lo Porto. The strike also killed Ahmed Farouq, an American citizen who was an al-Qaida planning leader. Another strike killed Adam Gadhani, an American citizen who joined al-Qaida and became Osama Bin Laden’s spokesman.

The survey is the latest in several years of data showing broad support among the U.S. public for a targeted killing program begun under President George W. Bush and expanded dramatically under Obama. While the U.S. once condemned Israel for targeted killing from the air, such operations are now the centerpiece of American counterterrorism policy, and they enjoy widespread public backing.

Support for targeted killing with drones crosses party lines, the new poll found. Nearly 6 in 10 Democrats favor using drones to bomb members of terrorist groups, while only 16 percent are opposed. Among Republicans, 72 percent are in favor and only 10 percent are opposed. Independents are more ambivalent, with 45 percent in favor and 12 percent opposed; 37 percent are neutral on the issue.

Just 47 percent of Americans think it’s appropriate to use drones to target terrorists overseas if innocent Americans might be killed in the process.

More than 4 in 10 (43 percent) of those who initially said they favor using drones — or that they didn’t favor or oppose using them — said it’s unacceptable to use drones if innocent Americans could be killed.

The poll did not include questions about foreign civilian casualties or about public confidence in the government’s assertion that the vast majority of those killed in drone strikes are terrorists. Independent groups have estimated that at least hundreds, and possibly thousands, of noncombatants have been killed in the operations, a count the U.S. government disputes.

Drone skeptics say most polls on the subject frame the question with the assumption that those targeted are terrorists, when it’s not clear that is always the case.

“Almost everyone, of course, is going to support killing people who are trying to kill us, but that’s not who we are necessarily targeting in each case,” said Sarah Kreps, an associate professor in the Department of Government at Cornell University.

Kreps examined poll data and found that if respondents are confronted with evidence of errors and civilian casualties in some drone strikes, support for the strikes drops below a majority.

Since the first operation in 2002, there have been 396 drone strikes in Pakistan and 126 in Yemen, according to the New America Foundation, which tracks the strikes using media reports. The CIA has conducted all of the strikes in Pakistan and most of them in Yemen, though the military also conducts drone strikes in Yemen.

The pace of strikes in both countries has diminished in recent years. Obama imposed a standard in Yemen that no strike would occur unless there was a near certainty that no civilian would be harmed. That standard — more restrictive than the rules governing traditional military action — was not in place in Pakistan, which is considered part of the Afghan war theater. In Pakistan, the drop-off in strikes has been attributed to the success of the program in destroying much of core al-Qaida.

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The AP-GfK Poll of 1,077 adults was conducted online April 23-27, 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 3.4 percentage points.

Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods, and later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were provided access at no cost to them.

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Online:

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