By NANCY BENAC and JENNIFER AGIESTA, Associated Press

 WASHINGTON (AP) — Nice guy, so-so president.

 Taking stock of President Barack Obama at the five-year mark in his term, less than a third of Americans consider him to be an above-average chief executive. Nearly twice as many find him likable.

 A new Associated Press-GfK Poll finds the president’s personal image to be on the rebound after taking a hit during the government shutdown late last year, with 58 percent now sizing him up as very or somewhat likable. That’s up 9 percentage points from October, just after the shutdown.

 Yet as Obama prepares to stand before Americans for his annual State of the Union address on Tuesday, people are largely pessimistic about the country’s direction, down on the condition of the economy and doubtful it will bounce back anytime soon. Unemployment? Seventy percent think it will go higher or stay the same.

Obama “wasn’t a total disappointment,” allows Joshua Parker, a 37-year-old small businessman in Smyrna, Tenn. “He didn’t put us into a Great Depression.”

But Parker, a self-described political independent and conservative, suspects that someone who understood the economy better could have done more.

“He would probably be a guy I would like to hang out with if he wasn’t president,” says Parker. “But I like a lot of people who are not qualified to be president.”

Across the country, Democrat Sabrina Carag, a 58-year-old retired accountant in Pleasanton, Calif., gives the president higher marks on both performance and personality.

If things aren’t great in the country, this former Republican reasons, it’s the fault of her old party and the Republicans in Congress.

“They block him every step of the way,” says Carag. “I don’t think it’s fair for them to say he’s been a bad president. How can you do anything if your hands are tied?”

From Huntsville, Texas, 51-year-old Wes Brummett thinks the economy will improve eventually — but it may be up to his grandchildren to do it.

Obama, this Democrat says, seems like an all-right guy and a good dad, but “he needs to show more leadership.”

“People are getting disheartened,” says Brummett, a self-employed computer systems administrator.

On the cusp of his sixth year in office, Obama is far removed from those heady days before his first inauguration, when two-thirds of Americans predicted he’d be an outstanding or above-average president.

Now, 31 percent think he’s been outstanding or above average, a quarter size him up as average, and 42 percent describe his presidency as below average or poor.

The ranks of those who believe he’s been outstanding or above average have edged down 6 points since just after Obama’s re-election in November 2012, reflecting slippage in how he’s viewed by Democrats, particularly liberals.

And while Obama’s likability numbers have recovered somewhat, doubts about his decisiveness and honesty persist. More than half of Americans wouldn’t describe him as decisive or honest. Fifty-two percent don’t find him particularly inspiring.

The president’s overall approval rating has remained fairly stable, with 45 percent approving and 53 percent saying they don’t. He’s picked up a little support, however, on his handling of unemployment and the federal government. People still view him negatively on both issues, but the share that disapproves has dropped 7 percentage points on each issue since October, largely a reflection of greater support among independents.

Congress continues to take its own outsized lumps in the polls as well. Just 14 percent of Americans approve of the way legislators are handling the job — up from a low of 5 percent after the government shutdown, but still nothing to celebrate. More than 9 in 10 Republicans say they disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job. It’s the first time that’s happened in AP-GfK polling since Republicans took control of the House after the 2010 elections.

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted Jan. 17-21, 2014, using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based online panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,060 adults. The survey has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points for all respondents.

Survey respondents 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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AP-GfK: Poll shows divide over increasing money for transit

WASHINGTON (AP) — A slight majority of Americans prefer living in a single-family house in the suburbs or a rural area with more land, even if it means driving long distances to get to work or run errands, according to a poll by The Associated Press-GfK.

However, a significant minority, 44 percent, would choose an apartment or smaller house in an urban area that comes with a short drive to work or the opportunity to use public transportation, bike or walk. The split also has a political aspect: Sixty-seven percent of Republicans and 53 percent of independents prefer suburban or rural living, while 55 percent of Democrats prefer urban areas.

The share of Americans who prefer suburban or rural living — 53 percent — is identical to the share who say the government should increase spending to build and improve roads, bridges and interstate highways. About 1 in 3 think current spending levels are about right, while just over 1 in 10 would like to see less money spent on roads.

Many states are struggling just to maintain current spending levels, and Congress has been unable to come up with a long-term plan to pay for highway aid that closes the gap between current spending and federal gas tax revenue.

Americans are more divided over building and improving public transportation such as rail and bus systems. Four in 10 say spending on public transportation should be increased, but just as many say current spending is about right. Only 18 percent say transit spending should be cut.

Contrary to the widely held notion that the millennial generation is flocking to cities and giving up their cars, younger people are not significantly more or less likely than older people to prefer urban living with a shorter commute and access to public transit, the poll found.

Matthew Wild, 33, an airline pilot living in the Los Angeles suburb of Hawthorne, said he favors increasing spending on both public transit and highways. The region’s freeways “take a real beating” from the traffic and need to be maintained, he said, but no new lanes should be added.

“We definitely don’t need to be expanding freeways anymore,” Wild said. “We’ve maxed out.”

He cited a highway near his home that was recently widened and now is as full as ever. He does, however, strongly support building more light rail transit locally and high-speed rail between California cities.

Wild said he’d much rather take a convenient local train than fight traffic in his car. He currently takes trains only a few times a year because there are no direct routes from where he lives to the places he wants to go, and indirect routes take too long, he said.

“The big problem with L.A. is that, given the lack of public transportation, sitting in traffic in your own car is still faster than taking public transit,” Wild said.

Jane McEntire, 62, who lives in Cartersville, Georgia, on the northwest fringe of the Atlanta metropolitan area, says traffic is horrible and getting worse.

Even so, she’d rather keep spending on roads and cut spending on public transportation. She says she’s lost confidence in the ability of state and local transportation officials to make improvements and not fritter money away on wasteful projects.

She is particularly incensed that officials used federal transit aid to build a slow-moving streetcar line in downtown Atlanta that is used primarily by tourists.

“I think they look really cute, but as far as usefulness — no,” she said. “When you have federal dollars that are coming into a state that are available and you spend it on these cars in Atlanta that go six or eight blocks back and forth … Why didn’t they take that money and spend it on something to help commuters?”

The AP-GfK Poll of 1,077 adults was conducted online from April 23 to 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

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AP-GfK Poll: Many approve Iran deal; Most don’t trust Tehran
WASHINGTON (AP) — Many Americans like the idea of the preliminary deal that would limit Iran’s nuclear program but very few people really believe Tehran will follow through with the agreement.

An Associated Press-GfK poll finds that just 3 percent said they were very confident that Iran would allow inspections of its nuclear facilities, remove plutonium from the country and shut down close to half of its uranium-enriching centrifuges as the preliminary deal says would be required. Nearly seven in 10 people said they were not confident, while 25 percent said they were only moderately confident.

The U.S., Germany, Britain, France, Russia and China are aiming to finalize a deal with Iran by June 30 that puts limits on Iranian programs that could be used to make nuclear arms. In exchange, economic sanctions on Iran would be lifted over time. Tehran denies any interest in such weapons but is negotiating in hopes of relief from billions of dollars in economic sanctions.

The next round of nuclear talks between Iran and six world powers will start Tuesday in Vienna.

Although more than half of Americans polled say they approve of making the deal, few people — 16 percent — are actually paying close attention to the complex Iran negotiations that have angered Israel and unnerved Gulf nations who are concerned about Tehran’s rising influence and aggressive behavior in the region.

The Senate last week passed legislation that would give Congress time to vote to reject any deal before sanctions are lifted. President Barack Obama would retain the right to veto lawmakers’ disapproval.

Israel’s strong objections to the deal could make a difference to many Americans. If forced to choose, a majority say it’s more important to maintain the U.S. relationship with Israel than to strike a deal with Iran. But respondents are divided along party lines, with nearly six in 10 Democrats saying the Iran deal is more important while seven in 10 Republicans believe ties with Israel are more critical.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been one of the harshest critics of the deal with Iran. Israel considers a nuclear-armed Iran an existential threat, citing hostile Iranian rhetoric toward the Jewish state, Iran’s missile capabilities and its support for violent militant groups.

More broadly, the poll found that Americans are increasingly interested in the U.S. role in world affairs, with 60 percent saying it’s an extremely important issue, up from 52 percent less than five months ago. Slightly more people also approve of Obama’s handling of the issue, increasing from 38 percent in December to 42 percent in the latest poll. Fifty-seven percent disapprove of Obama’s handling of the issue.

But overall, Americans are more likely to trust Republicans than Democrats to handle protecting the country.

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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