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: Americans prefer low prices to items ‘Made in the USA’
WASHINGTON (AP) — The vast majority of Americans say they prefer lower prices instead of paying a premium for items labeled “Made in the U.S.A.,” even if it means those cheaper items are made abroad, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll.

While presidential candidates like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are vowing to bring back millions of American jobs lost to China and other foreign competitors, public sentiment reflects core challenges confronting the U.S. economy. Incomes have barely improved, forcing many households to look for the most convenient bargains instead of goods made in America. Employers now seek workers with college degrees, leaving those with only a high school degree who once would have held assembly lines jobs in the lurch. And some Americans who work at companies with clients worldwide see themselves as part of a global market.

Nearly three in four say they would like to buy goods manufactured inside the United States, but those items are often too costly or difficult to find, according to the survey released Thursday. A mere 9 percent say they only buy American.

Asked about a real world example of choosing between $50 pants made in another country or an $85 pair made in the United States — one retailer sells two such pairs made with the same fabric and design — 67 percent say they’d buy the cheaper pair. Only 30 percent would pony up for the more expensive American-made one. People in higher earning households earning more than $100,000 a year are no less likely than lower-income Americans to say they’d go for the lower price.

“Low prices are a positive for US consumers — it stretches budgets and allows people to save for their retirements, if they’re wise, with dollars that would otherwise be spent on day-to-day living,” said Sonya Grob, 57, a middle school secretary from Norman, Oklahoma who described herself as a “liberal Democrat.”

But Trump and Sanders have galvanized many voters by attacking recent trade deals.

From their perspective, layoffs and shuttered factories have erased the benefits to the economy from reduced consumer prices.

“We’re getting ripped off on trade by everyone,” said Trump, the Republican front-runner, at a Monday speech in Albany, New York. “Jobs are going down the drain, folks.”

The real estate mogul and reality television star has threatened to shred the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada. He has also threatened to slap sharp tariffs on China in hopes of erasing the overall $540 billion trade deficit.

Economists doubt that Trump could deliver on his promises to create the first trade surplus since 1975. Many see the backlash against trade as frustration with a broader economy coping with sluggish income gains.

“The reaction to trade is less about trade and more about the decline in people’s ability to achieve the American Dream,” said Caroline Freund, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “It’s a lot easier to blame the foreigner than other forces that are affecting stagnant wage growth like technology.”

But Trump’s message appeals to Merry Post, 58, of Paris, Texas where the empty factories are daily reminders of what was lost. Sixty-eight percent of people with a favorable opinion of Trump said that free trade agreements decreased the number of jobs available to Americans.

“In our area down here in Texas, there used to be sewing factories and a lot of cotton gins,” Post said. “I’ve watched them all shut down as things went to China, Mexico and the Philippines. All my friends had to take early retirements or walk away.”

Sanders, the Vermont senator battling for the Democratic nomination, has pledged to end the exodus of jobs overseas.

“I will stop it by renegotiating all of the trade agreements that we have,” Sanders told the New York Daily News editorial board earlier this month, saying that the wages paid to foreigner workers and environmental standards would be part of any deal he would strike.

Still, voters are divided as to whether free trade agreements hurt job creation and incomes.

Americans are slightly more likely to say free trade agreements are positive for the economy overall than negative, 33 percent to 27 percent. But 37 percent say the deals make no difference. Republicans (35 percent) are more likely than Democrats (22 percent) to say free trade agreements are bad for the economy.

On jobs, 46 percent say the agreements decrease jobs for American workers, while 11 percent say they improve employment opportunities and 40 percent that they make no difference. Pessimism was especially pronounced among the 18 percent of respondents with a family member or friend whose job was offshored. Sixty-four percent of this group said free trade had decreased the availability of jobs.

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The AP-GfK Poll of 1,076 adults was conducted online March 31-April 4, 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 3.3 percentage points.

Respondents were first selected randomly using telephone 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:

http://ap-gfkpoll.com

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On Twitter follow Emily Swanson at @EL_Swan and Josh Boak at @joshboak


AP-GfK Poll: Public wants Senate action on court, but interest is modest

WASHINGTON (AP) — Nearly 2 in 3 Americans back Democrats’ demands that the Republican-run Senate hold hearings and a vote on President Barack Obama’s pick for the Supreme Court. But an Associated Press-GfK poll also suggests that GOP defiance against considering the nominee may not hurt the party much because, to many people, the election-year fight is simply not a big deal.

Just 1 in 5 in the survey released Wednesday said they’ve been following the battle over Obama’s nomination of federal judge Merrick Garland extremely or very closely.

That included just 26 percent of Democrats and 22 percent of Republicans expressing intense interest, along with a scant 8 percent of independents. That aligns with the political reading of the issue by many Republicans that while it motivates each side’s most committed partisans, people in the middle consider it a yawner — making the fight essentially a wash.

Another clue that voters not dedicated to either party find the court fight tiresome: While just over half of Democrats and Republicans said the issue is extremely or very important, only around a third of independents — and half of Americans overall — said so.

About 8 in 10 said that about the economy and about 7 in 10 took the same stance about health care and the threat posed by the Islamic State group. Immigration and the U.S. role in world affairs both attracted slightly more intensity of interest than the court battle.

“It gets me irritated, the bickering and all that kind of stuff,” Julie Christopher, 49, a Republican and flight attendant from Fort Worth, Texas, said in a follow-up interview, describing her modest attention to the issue.

Christopher said that while she agrees with the GOP’s refusal to hold hearings on Garland, when it comes to backing candidates in November, “That’s not going to be my only thing, like boom, I’m not going to vote for them.”

Hours after Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said his chamber would not consider an Obama nominee and would instead wait until the president elected this November makes a pick. With the remaining justices split 4-4 between those leaning conservative or liberal, most GOP senators have lined up behind McConnell.

Democrats have been spewing outrage ever since. Along with liberal groups, they’ve been using television ads, news conferences, public demonstrations and Senate speeches to ratchet up pressure on GOP senators, especially those facing re-election this fall in swing and Democratic-leaning states like Illinois, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Democrats’ theory is that the public wants Republicans to end their obstruction and let the Senate do its job, forcing GOP senators to relent on Garland or risk defeat in November. The AP-GfK poll has some data backing that up.

The 64 percent who favor hearings and a vote this year on Garland include an overwhelming proportion of Democrats and a sizable minority of Republicans, 40 percent. Independents, who can be pivotal in closely divided states, back action this year, 52 percent to 36 percent.

“I’d rather see at least deliberations, and see Congress do its job,” said Marc Frigon, 33, a high-tech worker from Beverly, Massachusetts, who leans Republican and wants the Senate to reject Garland’s confirmation. “I feel like that’s why we elected them in the first place.”

Just over half of moderate and liberal Republicans want the Senate to hold hearings this year, while fewer than 3 in 10 GOP conservatives say that.

Overall, people say by 59 percent to 36 percent that they want the Senate to approve Garland should a vote be held. Nearly 9 in 10 Democrats favor confirmation and independents tilt slightly that way, while 69 percent of Republicans favor rejecting him.

In another sign that the public tips toward Obama on the issue, 57 percent approve of the way he’s been handling the Garland nomination. That’s more than the number who gave the president positive reviews on any other issue in the poll: the economy, health care, Islamic State militants, immigration and world affairs.

The AP-GfK Poll of 1,076 adults was conducted online March 31-April 4, 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 3.3 percentage points.

Respondents were first selected randomly using telephone or mail survey methods and later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t have access to the Internet were provided access for free.

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Online:

http://ap-gfkpoll.com