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.

 

Poll: Immigration concerns rise with tide of kids

McALLEN, Texas (AP) — For nearly two months, images of immigrant children who have crossed the border without a parent, only to wind up in concrete holding cells once in United States, have tugged at heartstrings. Yet most Americans now say U.S. law should be changed so they can be sent home quickly, without a deportation hearing.

A new Associated Press-GfK poll finds two-thirds of Americans now say illegal immigration is a serious problem for the country, up 14 points since May and on par with concern about the issue in May 2010, when Arizona’s passage of a strict anti-immigration measure brought the issue to national prominence.

Nearly two-thirds, 62 percent, say immigration is an important issue for them personally, a figure that’s up 10 points since March. President Barack Obama’s approval rating for his handling of immigration dropped in the poll, with just 31 percent approving of his performance on the issue, down from 38 percent in May.

More than 57,000 unaccompanied immigrant children have illegally entered the country since October. Most of the children hail from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, where gang violence is pervasive. Many are seeking to reunite with a parent already living in the United States.

Since initially calling the surge an “urgent humanitarian situation” in early June, Obama has pressed Central American leaders to stem the flow and has asked Congress for $3.7 billion in new money to hire more immigration judges, build more detention space and process children faster.

House Republicans on Tuesday put forward a bill costing $659 million through the final two months of the fiscal year that would send National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border and allow authorities to deport children more quickly.

By a 2-to-1 margin, Americans oppose the current process for handling unaccompanied minors crossing the border, which requires that those who are not from Mexico or Canada stay in the U.S. and receive a hearing before a judge before they can be deported. Changing the law to allow all children crossing illegally to be sent back without such a hearing drew support from 51 percent of those polled.

Obama’s proposal for emergency funding, in comparison, was favored by 32 percent and opposed by 38 percent.

Santiago Moncada, a 65-year-old Austin resident who is retired from a state human resources job, said he had considered both proposals and ultimately believes the children need to be deported.

“My heart goes out to them,” said Moncada, a political independent originally from the border city of Eagle Pass. “It needs to be done only because we need to send a message saying our borders are closed. You need to apply for citizenship. You need to apply to come to the United States. You can’t just cross the border illegally.

“My problem is, ‘Who’s going to take care of them?’” Moncada said. “There comes a time when we have to say enough is enough.”

Moncada, however, does support creating a pathway to citizenship for many of the 11 million immigrants who already entered the country illegally. He said many are contributing and should be given a way to become citizens.

A majority of Americans still support such a path to citizenship, though that has slipped to 51 percent from 55 percent in May. Strong opposition to that proposal grew to 25 percent in the new poll from 19 percent in May.

Patricia Thompson’s life has intersected in myriad ways with immigration over the years. She was living in South Florida when thousands of Cubans crossed the Florida Straits fleeing communism. Her son helped build part of the border fence near San Diego with the National Guard. And as an assistant professor of nursing and a college student adviser for four decades, she counseled many immigrant students.

In some cases, those students had been brought to the U.S. illegally as children by their parents, said Thompson, 76, who recently relocated to Florence, Alabama, from Little Rock, Arkansas.

“Those kids certainly deserve an immigration chance,” Thompson said, adding that that issue needs to be resolved before the country moves on to another. For the unaccompanied children crossing the border more recently, Thompson said they should be sent back.

“We’ve got to stop this,” said Thompson, who identified herself as a Republican, but said she thought highly of some of Democratic governors in Arkansas. “We can’t take care of the whole world.”

The poll found that most people — 53 percent — believe the U.S. does not have a moral obligation to offer asylum to people fleeing violence or political persecution. And 52 percent say the children entering the U.S. illegally who say they are fleeing gang violence in Central America should not be treated as refugees.

Eric Svien, 57, a political independent who said he leans conservative, works on the investment side of a bank near Minneapolis, Minnesota. Immigration is not his biggest concern. It ranks somewhere behind reform of the tax code, which he said should be the priority. He said the idea of a moral obligation is a “slippery slope.”

“I think we’ve probably been too open in that regard. I think at this point in time when your country’s resources get strained to the point or you just can’t be the caretaker of the world and you’ve got to draw the line somewhere,” he said. “Where that line gets drawn I hesitate to say … That might be one spot where we have to say enough is enough.”

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.

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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Online:

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


AP-GfK Poll: In a polarized nation, how Democrats, Republicans see themselves and each other

By JENNIFER AGIESTA, Associated Press

 WASHINGTON (AP) — Whether it’s the Republicans or the Democrats, America’s political parties are far from beloved. Yet most people continue to align with one or the other.

 Those who claim allegiance to the parties say they are driven by a mix of inertia, preference for one side’s policies over the other and feeling that one can depart from the party line when necessary, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll. Despite heated politics, few say they prefer one party out of dislike for the other.

 But affiliation doesn’t always equal admiration: One-quarter of Republicans and 13 percent of Democrats say they dislike their own party.

Asked what it means when a person says he or she is a Democrat or a Republican, few mention longtime affinity. More people focus on the beliefs or attitudes held by the most visible members of the party.

Around 6 in 10 Americans say they identify with one of the nation’s two major parties. That figure rises to nearly 8 in 10 when those who say they lean toward either party are included. Yet both Democrats and Republicans inspire unfavorable views by a majority of Americans, including one-quarter who say they dislike both of them.

About a third go so far as to say they distrust both parties to handle some of the most basic functions of government: 35 percent trust neither party to handle the federal budget, and 34 percent trust neither Democrats nor Republicans to manage the federal government or address the concerns of “people like me.”

For a sizable minority, that distrust extends to many issues central to the nation’s politics, including the economy, immigration, health care and America’s image overseas. Across all 11 issues asked about in the survey, more than 1 in 5 said they lack faith in either party to handle each issue well.

So why choose a party at all?

Two reasons are cited as strong factors by about 4 in 10 in each party: They generally like the party’s policies, and they have been Republicans or Democrats for as long as they can remember. About a third of Republicans and a quarter of Democrats say that despite their association with a party, they don’t completely agree with what the party stands for. A small share in each party say their affiliation stems from a dislike of the other side.

Thirty percent of Democrats say that liking the party’s candidates is a strong part of their Democratic identity; that slips slightly to 23 percent among Republicans.

The survey also assessed views of partisans from the outside looking in, asking what it means when someone describes himself or herself as a Republican, a Democrat or an independent.

As the nation’s two major parties have become increasingly polarized, perceptions of those who affiliate with them reflect that trend. To 22 percent of Americans, when people call themselves Republicans, it means they’re conservative, and 24 percent say that when people describe themselves as Democrats, it means they’re liberal. In 2003, a Pew Research Center survey asking the same question found that 17 percent associated Republicans with conservatism, and 16 percent connected Democrats and liberalism.

Beyond ideology, Americans react to self-professed Republicans by thinking they support the wealthy or businesses (21 percent), vote for Republican candidates or agree with the party’s issue positions (9 percent), or support a smaller government (7 percent). Views on Democrats are more varied, but 7 percent each say Democrats are for working people, support bigger government or more spending, or depend too heavily on government.

Few choose to describe either party using personal attacks; about 5 percent did when asked about Republicans and 9 percent did when asked about Democrats. But cross-party descriptions skew more negative and coalesce around certain traits. Nine percent of Democrats use terms including “closed-minded,” ”racist” or “self-centered” to describe Republicans, and 16 percent of Republicans choose words such as “dumb,” ”lazy” or “immoral” when asked about Democrats.

Highlighting the variation between parties, the poll even found differences in what Republicans and Democrats hear when someone tells them his or her party affiliation. Republicans seize on issues and ideology, while Democrats tend to focus on attitudes or attributes.

A Republican in the survey described the GOP by highlighting issues central to the party’s identity: “Small government, strong national defense, conservative social policies, more self-reliant people rather than people looking for Uncle Sam to support them financially.”

A typical Democrat, on the other hand, described her party’s approach to policy: “They have a social conscience and care about the underdog more than those in the upper socio-economic classes.”

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted May 16-19 using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based online panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,354 adults and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points for all respondents.

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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Online:

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

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Follow Jennifer Agiesta on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/JennAgiesta