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: Americans skeptical of commercial drones
WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans are skeptical that the benefits of the heralded drone revolution will outweigh the risks to privacy and safety, although a majority approve of using small, unmanned aircraft for dangerous jobs or in remote areas, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll.

By a 2-1 margin, those who had an opinion opposed using drones for commercial purposes. Only 21 percent favored commercial use of drones, compared with 43 percent opposed. Another 35 percent were in the middle.

With a few narrow exceptions, the Federal Aviation Administration prohibits commercial use of drones but is about to propose regulations that will broaden the use of small ones. It may be two or three years before the rules take effect, but once they do thousands are expected to buzz U.S. skies.

Congress may also step in next year to try to nudge the FAA to move faster. Drones are forecast to create 100,000 jobs and $82 billion in economic impact in the first 10 years they’re allowed, according to the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, a trade group.

Only 3 percent of people say they’ve operated small drones, which are essentially the same as remote-controlled model aircraft.

Support for using commercial drones was the weakest among women and seniors, while college graduates and wealthier people were more apt to favor it.

Elliot Farber, 26, said drones are just the latest technological advancement and he doesn’t understand why anyone would oppose them.

“It’s really wild to think about it,” said Farber, who works in a casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey. “It’s literally something you would see in a movie and now they’re talking about it like it’s a true possibility. I think it’s inevitable it will happen. I think it’s a great thing.”

But Roberta Williams, 66, said she doesn’t believe “the average person should be allowed to just go out and get one to do whatever they want to do with it.” She worries people will put guns or other weapons on them and use them for sinister purposes.

The reliability of drones is another concern. “This is still a remote-control vehicle, and those things go amok,” said Williams, a retired nonprofit organization manager who lives in Fort Collins, Colorado.

Still, the survey showed many Americans see value in the use of drones for certain tasks, such as inspecting oil platforms and bridges. Majorities also said they favor using drones to help map terrain through aerial photography, and to monitor wildlife.

But — Amazon take note — only 1 in 4 thinks using drones to deliver small packages is a good idea. Thirty-nine percent were opposed, and 34 percent were neutral on that question. Nearly the same share opposed using drones to take photographs or videos at weddings and other private events. A third opposed allowing farmers to use drones to spray crops, while another third supported it. Only 23 percent said they favored the recreational use of small drones.

Ramona Jones, 65, said that if Amazon uses drones to deliver packages as it has proposed, delivery services like UPS, FedEx and the postal service won’t be far behind. She envisions skies crowded with drones running into each other and raining debris on people below.

“It sounds futuristic, but how are they going to manage that?” said Jones, of Austin, Texas. “Just like we have cars on the highway … somebody is still going to hit somebody else.”

Robert Waters, 54, a history professor at Ohio Northern University, said he favors commercial use of drones but has misgivings.

“They could definitely improve people’s lives,” he said. “Of course, they could also make them miserable with the kind of spying that people could do on each other. It’s a double-edged sword.”

Nearly three-fifths of those polled said they were extremely or very concerned that private operators could use drones in a way that violates privacy.

The FAA is expected to propose restricting drones weighing less than 55 pounds to flights under 400 feet high, forbid nighttime flights, and require drones be kept within sight of their operators.

It also may require drone operators to get pilot’s licenses, which would be controversial. Critics say the skills needed to fly a manned aircraft are different from those needed to operate a drone. But 64 percent support requiring the pilot’s licenses.

Eddy Dufault, 58, a machinist and part-time wildlife photographer in Marlborough, Massachusetts, who is considering buying a drone, said he agrees with most of the restrictions, but opposes licensing. It can cost would-be pilots $15,000 for the needed flight training and practice flights, he said, adding it would be more appropriate to require operators to attend a few classes and pass a drone flight test.

“There are people who are going to abuse it no matter what you do,” he said, “but 99.9 percent of them won’t.”

The poll of 1,010 adults was conducted online Dec. 4-8, using a sample drawn from GfK’s probability-based KnowledgePanel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

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Follow Joan Lowy on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/AP_Joan_Lowy and Jennifer Agiesta at http://www.twitter.com/JennAgiesta


AP-GfK Poll: End game: No immigration deal, just divisions

WASHINGTON (AP) — A Congress that began with bright hopes for immigration legislation is ending in bitter divisions on the issue even as some Republicans warn that the political imperative for acting is stronger than ever for the GOP.

In place of a legislative solution, President Barack Obama’s recent executive action to curb deportations for millions here illegally stands as the only federal response to what all lawmakers agree is a dysfunctional immigration system. Many Democrats are convinced Latino voters will reward them for Obama’s move in the 2016 presidential and Senate elections, while some Republicans fear they will have a price to pay.

“If we don’t make some down payment toward a rational solution on immigration in 2015, early 2016, good luck winning the White House,” said Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, an author of the comprehensive immigration bill that passed the Senate last year with bipartisan support, but stalled in the GOP-led House.

With the expiration of the 113th Congress this month, that bill will officially die, along with its path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants in this country illegally.

Immigration is certain to be a focus for the new, fully Republican-led Congress when it convenes in January — but there’s little expectation the GOP will make another attempt at comprehensive reforms.

Instead, GOP leaders in the House and Senate have pledged to take action to block Obama’s executive moves, setting up a battle for late February when funding expires for the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees immigration matters. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has promised action on a border security bill as part of that.

Whether Congress can do anything to stop Obama remains unclear, since he’s certain to veto any effort to undo his executive moves. It’s also not clear lawmakers could pass a border bill, or that Obama would sign it if they did.

While some congressional Republicans are arguing for action on piecemeal reforms, most advocates are resigned to waiting until a new president takes office in 2017 for lawmakers to make another attempt at a comprehensive overhaul that resolves the central immigration dilemma — the status of the millions here illegally.

“They had the best chance in a generation and they couldn’t get enough support from the Republican caucus,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, an immigrant advocacy group. “It may well be that they’re going to have to lose the White House and both chambers of Congress for us to get comprehensive immigration reform.”

When Obama won a second term in 2012 with strong Hispanic and Asian support, many national Republican leaders decided they needed to support policies that would attract those growing blocs of voters. The Republican National Committee formally embraced support for comprehensive immigration reform as a guiding principle for the GOP.

But legislative efforts stalled in the House as conservative Republicans balked at Boehner’s efforts to advance the issue. Last summer’s crisis over an influx of unaccompanied Central American minors arriving at the border caused shelter overloads and case backlogs, straining resources and creating the impression that the border was out of control — further souring political prospects for reform legislation.

In absence of congressional efforts, Obama promised he would act on his own, and he made good on that shortly after last month’s midterm elections, announcing an array of changes that will include work permits and three-year deportation stays for some 4 million immigrants here illegally. It mostly applies to those who’ve been here more than five years and have kids who are U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents.

The move inflamed Republicans, who have been fighting about it ever since, including a failed effort by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, to block Obama in a Senate floor vote this past weekend. On Tuesday the dispute spilled over into debate on Obama’s nominee to lead the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, Sarah Saldana, the U.S. attorney in Dallas. She was confirmed 55-39 by the Senate over objections from Republicans who had initially supported her but turned against her because of her support for Obama’s executive actions.

Meanwhile, some immigration advocates complained that the steps didn’t go far enough as Obama faced criticism from both sides of the political divide.

A new Associated Press-GfK poll found that most Americans support allowing immigrants living in the country illegally a way to stay here lawfully. But only 43 percent of them think Obama was right to take executive action to make those changes, while 54 percent of them say he should have kept trying to make a deal with Republicans. Still, the poll also showed little sign of blowback for Obama. Although 57 percent disapprove of Obama’s handling of the immigration issue, that was down slightly from 63 percent in October.

A group of 24 states joined in a federal lawsuit filed in Texas alleging that Obama overstepped his constitutional powers in a way that will only worsen the humanitarian problems along the southern U.S. border. And Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio is in federal court in Washington, contending that the policy is a magnet for more illegal entries into the country that will impose a burden on law enforcement.

In a court filing late Monday, the Justice Department argued for dismissal of Arpaio’s case, saying he has failed to substantiate his claims.

Congressional Republicans say that Obama’s actions created an even tougher climate for immigration legislation, but many Democrats and advocates contend that Republicans were terminally stalled on the issue anyway. Some Republicans question whether immigration legislation really is a political imperative for the GOP. “It’s really mixed out there — some people want a big immigration bill, others don’t,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, a supporter of reform efforts.

And two years after a “Gang of Eight” senators launched an immigration overhaul drive on Capitol Hill, some of those same players say they have no plans to initiate another such effort.

“I’m not going to start it in the Senate,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. “We’ve tried that.”

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Associated Press News Survey Specialist Emily Swanson and writer Pete Yost contributed to this report.