By CONNIE CASS and JENNIFER AGIESTA, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — Foreign policy used to be a bright spot in Americans’ dimming opinion of President Barack Obama. Not anymore. Associated Press-GfK polling found a spring and summer of discontent with the president’s handling of world events.
Obama’s consistently low marks across crises such as the fighting in Ukraine and the conflict between Israel and Hamas could benefit Republicans aiming to win control Congress in the fall.
“The problem is saying something and not doing anything — making grandiose threats and never following any of them up,” said Dwight Miller, 71, a retiree and volunteer firefighter in Robertson County, Texas. Miller, who describes himself as a libertarian-leaning Republican, says Obama should either stay out of other nations’ business or commit to going “all in.”
In Hawaii, another retiree, Kent Killam, also worries about the U.S. response to cascading troubles in Ukraine, the Middle East and elsewhere. But he blames former President George W. Bush for eroding the nation’s clout abroad and Republican lawmakers for limiting Obama’s ability to act.
“I’m not saying it’s going well at all,” said Killam, 72, a Democratic-leaning independent. “On the other hand, I don’t think he has too many options.”
The foreign conflicts that have consumed so much of Washington’s attention lately aren’t rated as especially pressing by most Americans surveyed for the AP-GfK poll. It’s unclear how their unhappiness with Obama’s performance will affect the midterm elections in November.
Asked about world trouble spots:
—42 percent say the conflict between Israel and Hamas is “very” or “extremely” important to them; 60 percent disapprove of the way Obama has handled it.
—40 percent consider the situation in Afghanistan highly important; 60 percent disapprove of Obama’s handling of it.
—38 percent give high importance to the conflict in Ukraine; 57 percent disapprove of what Obama has done about that.
—38 percent find the situation in Iraq of pressing importance; 57 percent disapprove of Obama’s handling of it.
Opinion of Obama’s foreign policy has slid nearly as low as his overall approval rating.
Just 43 percent were OK with the president’s handling of foreign relations in the new poll, while 40 percent approved how he’s doing his job overall. AP-GfK polls in March and May show a similar picture.
The late-March poll, which came after Russia seized upon an uprising in Ukraine to annex the Crimean Peninsula, marked a significant drop from January’s 49 percent foreign policy rating. In September 2012, shortly before Obama’s re-election, it was 57 percent.
Republicans line up more uniformly behind their party on foreign policy than Democrats do.
Asked whom they trust more to protect the country, 71 percent of Republicans chose their party. Only 39 percent of Democrats said their party most; about as many Democrats trusted both parties equally.
Sixty-three percent of Republicans have more confidence in their party in an international crisis, while 44 percent of Democrats put faith in their party alone. Most Democrats did prefer their party for managing the U.S. image abroad — 51 percent said it would handle that better.
About half of independents don’t trust either major party in a world crisis.
“I think they’re both a little bit more aggressive than they need to be in using armies instead of going through the U.N.,” said Cameron Wooley, 18, of Orlando, Florida, who’s still deciding whom to support when she votes for the first time this year.
“Maybe if we didn’t spend these massive chunks of our budget on the military we wouldn’t have the other concerns we have because of money,” Wooley said. An aspiring opera singer attending the University of North Florida in the fall, she would like to see some of that defense money handed over to the states to spend on things like education and roads.
Only about half of those polled see foreign relations as highly important right now, and concern about the United States’ relationship with other countries hasn’t increased despite recent news.
Jay Lofstead, a Democrat in Albuquerque, New Mexico, wants to see more involvement in the world’s problems, and he gives Obama a mixed review.
“I’d like to see him get more involved on a humanitarian basis in more areas, not military support — no financial support, no weapons — but strictly humanitarian aid,” said Lofstead, 44, a supercomputer researcher at Sandia National Laboratories, who stressed that he speaks only for himself.
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. It is larger for subgroups.
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.
AP-GfK Poll: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com
MOSCOW (AP) — U.S. and European sanctions against Russia’s energy and finance sectors are strong enough to cause deep, long-lasting damage within months unless Moscow persuades the West to repeal them by withdrawing support for Ukrainian insurgents.
The U.S. and European Union released details Wednesday of new sanctions aimed at hurting Russia’s economy without doing undue damage to their own trade interests, punishment for alleged Russian support for Ukrainian rebels and Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea.
The sanctions go further than earlier penalties — which had largely targeted individuals — by broadly limiting the trade of weapons and of technology that can be used in the oil and military industries. The EU also put its capital markets off-limits to Russian state-owned banks.
Experts said the sanctions wouldn’t have a tremendous impact in the short term, but if left in place for months will stifle development in the Russian economy and sap its financial sector. Already, economists have revised downward their predictions for Russian growth this year, with some saying the country will go into recession.
The biggest immediate impact is likely to come from the financial sanctions. U.S. officials said roughly 30 percent of Russia’s banking sector assets would now be constrained by sanctions.
In a first sign of concern, Russia’s central bank said Wednesday that it would support banks targeted by the penalties.
“State-owned banks are the core of the Russian banking system,” said Vladimir Tikhomirov, chief economist at financial services group BCS. He noted the banks are already having trouble raising money. “That would mean their ability to lend to other banks, smaller banks, is going to be more restricted also.”
Last year, about a third of the bonds issued by Russia’s majority state-owned banks — 7.5 billion euros ($10 billion) — were placed in EU financial markets, according to EU officials.
The measures against Russian banks, which exempt short-term borrowing, are meant to inflict just enough pain without causing them to collapse.
“The aim is not to destroy these banks,” said a senior EU official, briefing reporters on condition of anonymity prior to the sanctions’ official announcement. “We do not want them to get into a liquidity crisis.”
Russia’s foreign ministry complained vocally about the sanctions, criticizing the U.S. for “advancing baseless claims” about its role in Ukraine in a “pretentious, prosecutorial manner.” It criticized the EU for allowing its policy to be “dictated by Washington.”
The key will be how long the sanctions stay in place.
In the short term, Russia has low public debt and enough money to support its banks. The lenders themselves have large reserves.
In the longer term, the sanctions could hurt by fostering a climate of uncertainty — something investors loathe. Some foreign investors are likely to stay away from the sanctioned companies.
Already, as the Ukraine crisis deepened, Russia’s central bank has been forced to raise interest rates several times to stabilize the currency as foreign investors sold it off; investors are expected to pull more than $100 billion out of Russia this year. The central bank last raised rates on Friday in anticipation of the latest sanctions.
Rising rates hurt the economy by making borrowing more expensive; VTB bank chairman Mikhail Zadornov told the Financial Times that the company’s retail arm cut new loans to small business by 20 percent in the first half of 2014.
Even ordinary Russians were worried.
“I have some concerns for my own savings,” said Indira Minigazimova, a resident of southern Siberia who was visiting Moscow.
It is less clear what the impact may be of another key sanction: the EU’s block on exports of technology that can be used for oil exploration and economic development. Russia relies heavily on Western expertise, for example in drilling for oil in Arctic regions.
This area has significantly more risk to Western companies — particularly BP and ExxonMobil — that have big investments in Russia. The sanctions were not expected to affect current deals and shareholdings, though it was unclear what the long-term repercussions for investments might be.
EU officials noted the prohibition would target just one-tenth of overall energy tech exports to Russia.
The reaction in Moscow’s stock markets was mixed Wednesday, as investors had sold off shares in Russian companies for the past two weeks, since the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine. Reports last week that the new, tougher sanctions were due had also caused markets to tumble ahead of their formal announcement Tuesday.
On Wednesday, the MICEX benchmark index rose 0.9 percent, mainly thanks to a rise in the shares of companies that were spared sanctions. Shares in VTB Bank, Russia’s second-largest and one of the sanctions targets, were down 1.3 percent.
EU officials emphasized that while the latest measures last for one year, they can be annulled at any time — intended as an incentive for Russia to dial back its support for the Ukrainian rebels.
So far, the sanctions have had little effect on Russia’s actions in Ukraine. If anything, Russia appears to have stepped up its engagement in the conflict in recent weeks, with the U.S. and its allies saying Russia has built up troops along its border with Ukraine and sent heavy weapons to the separatists.
Russia, meanwhile, slapped a ban Wednesday on fruit and vegetable imports from Poland, a vocal supporter of tougher EU penalties. Moscow said the ban was for violations of health regulations and documentation procedures for some Polish produce; Poland accused Moscow of retaliation.
An Associated Press-GfK poll conducted just before the latest expansion of sanctions found 53 percent of Americans felt the U.S. had not gone far enough in sanctioning Russia, up from 41 percent who felt that way in March. A majority also supported expanding sanctions to target the Russian economy, including its energy sector, according to the survey of 1,044 Americans. The expanded sanctions drew rare cross-party support among the American public, with majorities of both Democrats and Republicans backing the move.
Indeed, President Barack Obama announced more sanctions Tuesday against three major Russian banks, and said he would block future technology sales to the oil industry.
Fewer of those polled felt the U.S. ought to provide military or financial support to countries if they are targeted by Russia.
Despite the sanctions, Obama said the West is not entering a Soviet-era standoff with Russia.
“It’s not a new Cold War,” he said.
AP-GfK poll: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com
Baetz reported from Brussels. Julie Pace in Washington, Geir Moulson in Berlin, Danica Kirka in London and Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.