By JENNIFER AGIESTA and KEN THOMAS, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Entering 2012, President Barack Obama’s re-election prospects are essentially a 50-50 proposition, with a majority saying the president deserves to be voted out of office despite concerns about the Republican alternatives, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll.

Obama’s overall poll numbers suggest he could be in jeopardy of losing re-election even as the public’s outlook on the economy appears to be improving, the AP-GfK poll found. For the first time since spring, more said the economy got better in the past month than said it got worse. The president’s approval rating on unemployment shifted upward — from 40 percent in October to 45 percent in the latest poll — as the jobless rate fell to 8.6 percent last month, its lowest level since March 2009.

But Obama’s approval rating on his handling of the economy overall remains stagnant: 39 percent approve and 60 percent disapprove.

Heading into his re-election campaign, the president faces a conflicted public that does not support his steering of the economy, the most dominant issue for Americans, or his reforms to health care, one of his signature accomplishments, yet are grappling with whether to replace him with Republican contenders Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich.

The poll found an even divide on whether Americans expect Obama to be re-elected next year.

For the first time, the poll found that a majority of adults, 52 percent, said Obama should be voted out of office while 43 percent said he deserves another term. The numbers mark a reversal since last May, when 53 percent said Obama should be re-elected while 43 percent said he didn’t deserve four more years.

Obama’s overall job approval stands at a new low: 44 percent approve while 54 percent disapprove. The president’s standing among independents is worse: 38 percent approve while 59 percent disapprove. Among Democrats, the president holds steady with an approval rating of 78 percent while only 12 percent of Republicans approve of the job he’s doing.

“I think he’s doing the best he can. The problem is the Congress won’t help at all,” said Rosario Navarro, a Democrat and a 44-year-old truck driver from Fresno, Calif., who voted for Obama in 2008 and intends to support him again.

Robin Dein, a 54-year-old homemaker from Villanova, Pa., who is an independent, said she supported Republican John McCain in 2008 and has not been impressed with Obama’s economic policies. She intends to support Romney if he wins the GOP nomination.

“(Obama) spent the first part of his presidency blaming Bush for everything, not that he was innocent, and now his way of solving anything is by spending more money,” she said.

Despite the soft level of support, many are uncertain whether a Republican president would be a better choice. Asked whom they would support next November, 47 percent of adults favored Obama compared with 46 percent for Romney, a former Massachusetts governor. Against Gingrich, the president holds a solid advantage, receiving 51 percent compared with 42 percent for the former House speaker.

The potential matchups paint a better picture for the president among independents. Obama receives 45 percent of non-aligned adults compared with 41 percent for Romney. Against Gingrich, Obama holds a wide lead among independents, with 54 percent supporting the president and 31 percent backing the former Georgia congressman.

Another piece of good news for Obama: people generally like him personally. Obama’s personal favorability rating held steady at 53 percent, with 46 percent viewing him unfavorably. About three-quarters called him likeable.

The economy remains a source of pessimism, though the poll suggests the first positive movement in public opinion on the economy in months. One in five said the economy improved in the last month, double the share saying so in October. Still most expect it to stay the same or get worse.

“I suppose you could make some sort of argument that it’s getting better, but I’m not sure I even see that,” said independent voter John Bailey, a 61-year-old education consultant from East Jordan, Mich. “I think it’s bad and it’s gotten worse under (Obama’s) policies. At best, it’s going to stay bad.”

Despite the high rate of joblessness, the poll found some optimism on the economy. Although 80 percent described the economy as “poor,” respondents describing it “very poor” fell from 43 percent in October to 34 percent in the latest poll, the lowest since May. Twenty percent said the economy got better in the past month while 37 percent said they expected the economy to improve next year.

Yet plenty of warning signs remain for Obama. Only 26 percent said the United States is headed in the right direction while 70 percent said the country was moving in the wrong direction.

The president won a substantial number of women voters in 2008 yet there does not appear to be a significant tilt toward Obama among women now. The poll found 44 percent of women say Obama deserves a second term, down from 51 percent in October, while 43 percent of men say the president should be re-elected.

About two-thirds of white voters without college degrees say Obama should be a one-term president, while 33 percent of those voters say he should get another four years. Among white voters with a college degree, 57 percent said Obama should be voted out of office.

The poll found unpopularity for last year’s health care reform bill, one of Obama’s major accomplishments. About half of the respondents oppose the health care law and support for it dipped to 29 percent from 36 percent in June. Just 15 percent said the federal government should have the power to require all Americans to buy health insurance.

Even among Democrats, the health care law has tepid support. Fifty percent of Democrats supported the health care law, compared with 59 percent of Democrats last June. Only about a quarter of independents back the law.

The president has taken a more populist tone in his handling of the economy, arguing that the wealthy should pay more in taxes to help pay for the extension of a payroll tax cut that would provide about $1,000 in tax cuts to a family earning about $50,000 a year. Among those with annual household incomes of $50,000 or less, Obama’s approval rating on unemployment climbed to 53 percent, from 43 percent in October.

The Associated Press-GfK Poll was conducted December 8-12 2011 by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cell phone interviews with 1,000 adults nationwide and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

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Associated Press writer Stacy A. Anderson and News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.

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Online:

http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com

 

How the poll was conducted

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Associated Press-GfK Poll on President Barack Obama and the economy was conducted by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications from Dec. 8-12. It is based on landline and cellphone telephone interviews with a nationally representative random sample of 1,000 adults. Interviews were conducted with 700 respondents on landline telephones and 300 on cellphones.

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 4 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.

The questions and results are available at http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com .

Topline available at http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com and http://surveys.ap.org.

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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Follow Joan Lowy on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/AP_Joan_Lowy


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