By CHARLES BABINGTON and JENNIFER AGIESTA, Associated Press
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.
Online: AP-GfK Poll: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com .
Associated Press News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.