AP-GfK poll: Public lacks faith in government, opposes changes to Medicare, Social Security
By CHARLES BABINGTON and JENNIFER AGIESTA, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama’s re-election glow is gone. Congress’ reputation remains dismal. And only about one in five Americans say they trust the government to do what’s right most of the time, an Associated Press-GfK poll finds.
Most adults disapprove of Obama’s handling of the federal deficit, a festering national problem. But they also dislike key proposals to reduce deficit spending, including a slower growth in Social Security benefits and changes to Medicare.
Rounding out the portrait of a nation in a funk, the share of people saying the United States is heading in the wrong direction is at its highest since last August: 56 percent.
The government in Washington is “dealing with a lot of stuff that are non-issues,” said Jeremy Hammond, 33, of Queensbury, N.Y.
Hammond, a Web programmer and political independent, said Congress should focus on “the incredible debt and lack of spending control.” He said it’s absurd for Congress to force the Postal Service to continue Saturday mail delivery when the agency says “we can’t afford it.”
Hammond reflects the lukewarm feelings toward Obama found in the poll. Asked his opinion of the president, Hammond paused and said: “I don’t know. I voted for him in 2008, not in 2012.” When it comes to presidents, he said, “it’s one set of lawyers or the other.”
Just 7 percent of Americans say they trust the government in Washington to do what is right “just about always,” the AP-GfK poll found. Fourteen percent say they trust it “most” of the time. Two-thirds trust the federal government only some of the time; 11 percent say they never do.
Obama’s overall job approval rating is at its lowest point since his re-election: 50 percent, with 47 percent disapproving. His approval rating among Republicans — 10 percent — is back to where it was before the election. Among independents, disapproval has crept up to 49 percent.
With more and more components of the 2010 “Obamacare” health law taking effect, 41 percent of Americans approve of the president’s handling of health care. That’s the lowest level during his time in office.
Ratings of the president’s handling of the economy, meanwhile, are back in negative territory, with 52 percent disapproving and 46 percent approving. In last September’s run-up to the election, 49 percent said they approved, and 48 percent disapproved.
In the new poll, disapproval among independents on handling the economy is up 10 percentage points since September 2012. It now stands at 57 percent.
Obama’s budget proposals are winning few kudos. Fifty-six percent of Americans disapprove of the way he is handling the federal deficit, while 39 percent approve. Those levels have changed little in the past 15 months.
Public support has dropped, however, for proposals recently floated by Obama and others to slow the growth of benefits in the popular but costly Social Security and Medicare programs.
Opposition to raising the Medicare eligibility age has grown over the last few months in AP-GfK polling. Shortly after the fall election, 48 percent opposed such a plan, while 40 percent supported it. Opposition has grown by 11 points since then, with 59 percent now saying they dislike the idea.
Support among Democrats fell from 41 percent last fall to just 27 percent now, with 60 percent opposed.
Curiously, perhaps, the sharpest drop in support for a higher Medicare eligibility age was found among adults under 30. The new poll found 32 percent of them backing the idea, compared to 48 percent last fall. Medicare, the major health care program for seniors, is partly funded by payroll taxes on all wage earners.
Most Americans also oppose a proposal to slow the cost-of-living hikes in Social Security benefits. Now, 54 percent oppose the idea, up slightly from January, when 49 percent opposed it. Only about a quarter favor it.
Donald Roberts of Kingsport, Tenn., is among those who want no changes to Medicare and Social Security. “Leave them alone,” he said, “because it’s all you can do to get by on it.”
Roberts, 57, a political independent and former construction worker, receives disability benefits and is diabetic. He said Medicare pays for his doctor visits, but he must cover some of his medications’ cost.
Roberts also shared the often-heard disenchantment with Obama. “He’s OK, I guess,” Roberts said. “I wouldn’t have voted for him.”
Hammond, the 33-year-old Web programmer, holds a different view of Medicare and Social Security.
“They are critical programs,” he said, “but we should start privatizing some of that stuff.”
Hammond said he thinks younger workers could get better returns if at least some of their payroll taxes were invested in stocks or other instruments, and then earmarked for each worker’s eventual retirement.
Americans are ambivalent about raising taxes on wealthier households, which Obama proposes as a means to help shrink the deficit. Forty-five percent support new limits on itemized tax deductions for the top 2 percent of earners. That covers individuals making at least $183,000 a year, and married couples making $223,000 or more. One in three Americans oppose the idea.
Most Democrats — 57 percent —favor the proposal. But only 41 percent of independents and 33 percent of Republicans do.
Most Americans support Obama’s “Buffet rule,” which would require those making $1 million or more annually to pay at least 30 percent of their earnings in federal income taxes. Just under 60 percent support the idea, while 29 percent oppose it.
Democrats might find comfort in the fact that Republican lawmakers are even less popular than Democrats.
Thirty-seven percent of adults approve of congressional Democrats, while 57 percent disapprove. Republicans in Congress fare worse: 27 percent approve of their performance, and 67 percent disapprove.
Even self-identified Republican adults have dim views of GOP lawmakers. Just 44 percent approve of the way congressional Republicans handle their jobs, and 52 percent disapprove.
Democrats’ views of their own party’s lawmakers are considerably better, with 68 percent approving the job being done by Democrats in Congress.
The Associated Press-GfK Poll was conducted April 11-15, 2013, by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cell phone interviews with 1,004 adults nationwide. Results for the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points; it is larger for subgroups.
News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.
The Associated Press-GfK poll on President Obama, politics and the federal budget deficit was conducted by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications from April 11-15. It is based on landline telephone and cellphone interviews with a nationally representative random sample of 1,004 adults. Interviews were conducted with 601 respondents on landline telephones and 403 on cellular telephones.
Digits in the phone numbers dialed were generated randomly to reach households with unlisted and listed landline and cellphone numbers.
Interviews were conducted in both English and Spanish.
As is done routinely in surveys, results were weighted, or adjusted, to ensure that responses accurately reflect the population’s makeup by factors such as age, sex, education and race. In addition, the weighting took into account patterns of phone use — landline only, cell only and both types — by region.
No more than 1 time in 20 should chance variations in the sample cause the results to vary by more than plus or minus 3.9 percentage points from the answers that would be obtained if all adults in the U.S. were polled.
There are other sources of potential error in polls, including the wording and order of questions.