By JULIE PACE

ARVADA, Colorado (AP) — Eight years ago, Barbara Conley was one of the millions of Americans swept up in Barack Obama’s promises of hope and change when he accepted the Democratic nomination at a packed football stadium a few miles from her home in the Denver suburbs.

But those optimistic days are almost unrecognizable to Conley now.

With Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton preparing for their own nominating conventions, the 68-year-old independent is filled with so much frustration at the candidates and the political system that propelled them to victory that she can’t even imagine voting in November.

“I’m so mad about both of the candidates,” said Conley, who finds Clinton too dishonest and Trump too unproven to be president. She paused while loading groceries into her car and declared, “It’s depressing.”

Less than four months before Election Day, that same sense of anger and anxiety runs deep with voters across the country. Trump and Clinton will each try to paint a rosy picture of life under their leadership during their back-to-back conventions, but it seems unlikely either can quickly shake Americans out of their bad mood.

A stunning 79 percent of Americans now believe the country is heading in the wrong direction, a 15-point spike in the past year, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll. Voters are strikingly unhappy with the candidates who will be on the ballot this fall, with only 22 percent saying they would be proud to see Trump win and 27 percent to see Clinton.

Julie Defoe, a 51-year-old who works for a startup, said she feels backed into a corner by the nominees. A self-described conservative Democrat who voted for Republicans in the past two presidential elections, Defoe has considered simply not voting in November.

“Or can we rally for a box that says, can we get a do-over?” said Defoe, who lives in Lafayette, Colorado.

Kristie Boltz, a registered Republican from Black Lake, Ohio, said a choice between Clinton and Trump is so unappealing that she would rather Obama stay in office for a third term.

“And I didn’t even vote for Obama. How crazy is that?” said Boltz, a 39-year-old who works in marketing.

By some measures, America’s palpable pessimism can appear at odds with the country’s economic and security standing.

The economy is growing, jobs are being created and unemployment is low. Tens of thousands of American troops have come home from dangerous war zones during Obama’s presidency. Crime is down nationwide.

But the improving economy is no doubt a changing one, leaving some Americans without the skills they need for the jobs available. Terrorism fears have been heightened in the U.S. after a string of deadly incidents in the West, including Thursday night’s attack in Nice, France, that killed more than 80 people during a Bastille Day celebration.

This summer in particular has seemed to bring a steady stream of gruesome news.

A mass shooting at an Orlando nightclub left 49 people dead, as well as a gunman who pledged his allegiance to the Islamic State group despite no formal ties to the group. Shootings by police of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota were captured on video, followed by the murder of five police officers in Dallas.

The incidents seemed to momentarily spark national soul searching about gun violence and race relations. But as Americans looked toward the presidential candidates and other political leaders, some saw little sign of readiness to meet a challenging time.

“I wish the candidates would get together and be a team to help each other and help the country, that’s what I wish,” said Lonila Duarte, a 71-year-old from Denver who plans to vote for Trump. “And stop acting like children.”

Emilie Passow, a 68-year-old Democrat from Bala Cynwyd, Pennsylvania, said her disgust extends beyond the presidential candidates to Congress as well. “There’s so little attempt at conciliation and consensus,” she said.

More than any other candidate in this election, Trump has latched onto the public’s fears. He promises to “Make America Great Again,” pledging to bring back manufacturing and mining jobs from areas where they’ve disappeared. With coded — and sometimes not so coded — language, he’s cast aspersions on immigrants seeking to come to the United States and on Muslims already here.

“We’re trying to be so nice, we’re trying to be so civil. We’re so weak,” Trump said hours after the Nice attack. “The world has got to strengthen up, and we have to be very tight with our borders. It’s now a different world.”

While Trump supporters cheer those lines, they leave other voters on edge.

“It’s humiliating as an American that we would actually entertain that, that there are people who actually support him,” said Melissa Andreas, a 42-year-old dance instructor from Erie, Colorado. “I’m shocked.”

Indeed, three-quarters of Americans consider Trump to be only slightly or not at all civil, and half say he’s at least somewhat racist, according to the AP-GfK poll.

But three-quarters consider Clinton to be only slightly or not at all honest, and most think her use of a private email address and server while she was secretary of state broke the law, including 4 in 10 who think she did so intentionally.

Andreas has never voted before in a presidential election. She liked Obama, but felt his Republican rivals John McCain and Mitt Romney were palatable enough that she didn’t see a need to cast a ballot in her swing state.

That’s all changed in this election.

“This election actually has me chiming in,” said Andreas, who plans to vote for Clinton. She said of the prospect of a Trump presidency: “I’m scared that our country is going to be in utter turmoil with him as our leader.”

Seventy-six-year-old Mike Ryan shares many of those sentiments about Trump. But his view of Clinton isn’t much better.

“I’ve always been a Democrat and always will be,” Ryan said. “But it’s going to be a toughy.”

Like his fellow Coloradan Barbara Conley, some of Ryan’s feelings stem in part from his frustrations with Obama’s eight years in office. Though Ryan supports Obama, he’s been irritated by the years of battle between the Democratic president and Republican lawmakers that have often ended in stalemate.

Asked whether he believes Clinton — or Trump — could do any better, Ryan said simply, “I’m disappointed with what we’re left with.”

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Associated Press writers Kathleen Ronayne and Marc Levy, and AP Polling Editor Emily Swanson contributed to this report.

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Follow Julie Pace on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jpaceDC

AP-GfK Poll: Americans go to polls against backdrop of an uneven economy

By CHRISTOPHER S. RUGABER

WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. economy is lifting job growth and wages but not voters’ spirits.

Americans are choosing a president against a backdrop of slow but steady growth that has managed to restore the economy from the crushing setback of the Great Recession. The government’s October jobs report , released Friday, showed that hiring remains solid, with 161,000 jobs added. The unemployment rate is a low 4.9 percent.

Yet the recovery, the slowest since World War II, has left many Americans feeling left behind, especially those who lack high skills or education or who live outside major population centers.

“The (typical) U.S. household is in a much better spot than they were eight years ago,” said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics. “But it hasn’t been a great decade for anyone either. You’ve still got a big chunk of the population who feels this hasn’t worked for them.”

The economy’s weak spots are a top concern for a majority of voters, who say the U.S. economy is in poor shape, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll. At the same time, they say their own personal finances are good.

Fifty-three percent of voters say the economy is “poor,” while 46 percent say “good,” according to the poll, conducted Oct. 20-24. Yet 65 percent say their own finances are good, versus 34 percent who rate them poor.

Seventy-three percent of Hillary Clinton supporters say that economy is good; just 16 percent of Donald Trump supporters say so.

And while 60 percent of whites say the economy is poor, 60 percent of nonwhites call it good. Yet whites and nonwhites are about equally likely to say their own personal finances are good.

Consider 73-year-old Charles Muller, who lives outside Trenton, New Jersey, and describes his personal finances as fine. He has a pension from 26 years as a state employee and receives Social Security.

But the broader economy seems fairly weak to Muller. A friend was laid off during the recession, then earned a teaching certificate, and yet still can’t find a full-time teaching job. And a friend’s daughter who recently graduated from college is stuck as an assistant manager of a dollar store.

“I know a lot of people who are struggling and have been unable to find jobs commensurate with their education levels,” Muller said. He is supporting Trump, though he sees the major presidential nominees as “the two worst candidates I’ve ever been given a choice of.”

Here’s a snapshot of the U.S. economy of the eve of the elections:

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SLOWER BUT STILL-SOLID HIRING

The job market has provide itself resilient.

Employers have added an average of 181,000 jobs a month this year. That’s down from last year’s robust 229,000 average. But it’s nearly double the monthly pace needed to lower the unemployment rate over time. The number of people seeking unemployment benefits is near a 40-year low — evidence that layoffs are scarce and most Americans are enjoying strong job security.

Blake Zalcberg, president of OFM, a furniture manufacturer in Raleigh, North Carolina, hopes to add nine employees to his 58-person company, including graphic artists, photographers and sales staff. He expects sales to grow by a third next year:

“It’s a fairly robust furniture market,” he said.

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PAY FINALLY ACCELERATING

With the unemployment rate down to 4.9 percent from the a peak of 10 percent in 2009, businesses have been forced to compete harder for new employees. That’s giving workers more bargaining power when they seek new jobs and finally boosting pay. Average hourly wages grew 2.8 percent in October from a year earlier — the fastest 12-month pace in seven years. Still, historically speaking, that’s still not great. Wages typically rise at about 3.5 percent each year in a healthy economy.

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CAUTIOUS CONSUMERS

Steady hiring and modest pay increases have emboldened more Americans to buy high-cost items like new cars. Auto sales are running near last year’s record pace of more than 17 million vehicles. Yet caution still reigns: Americans’ spending grew just 2.1 percent in the July-August quarter, down from a much healthier 4.3 percent in the previous three months.

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HOUSING HAS NEARLY RECOVERED

The bursting of the last decade’s housing bubble wiped out trillions in household wealth, cost more than 5 million Americans their homes and triggered the Great Recession. Yet the home market has mostly recovered, with purchase prices just 7 percent below their 2006 peaks. Greater home values have helped many families recoup some of their lost wealth. Sales of existing homes have plateaued this year at a nearly healthy level of about 5.4 million.

Doug Duncan, chief economist at Fannie Mae, foresees sales growth slowing slow next year. But more younger Americans are starting to buy homes, suggesting that millennials are tiring of living in apartments — or their parents’ basements— and are starting to move out.

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BUSINESSES HOLDING BACK

Companies with optimistic outlooks typically spend more on computers, machinery and other equipment to keep up with demand. Instead, in recent months the opposite has happened: Business investment in new equipment has fallen for four straight quarters. Some of that pullback occurred because oil drillers slashed spending on steel pipe and other gear in response to sharply lower oil prices. But many companies are also likely holding off on new spending until after the election, when potential economic policy changes will be clearer.

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WEAK WORKER PRODUCTIVITY

The U.S. economy has failed to grow much more efficient. Since the recession began in 2007, productivity — or output per hour of work — has grown at less than one-third the annual pace it did from 2000 through 2007. Rising productivity is vital to raising living standards, because it enables companies to raise pay without raising prices.

Economists blame a range of factors for the slowdown: Americans are starting fewer new companies, which tend to be quicker to adopt new technologies. And weaker investment in roads, ports and other infrastructure has slowed shipping and commuting times.

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MANY STILL LEFT BEHIND

Millions of Americans haven’t benefited from the consistent hiring of the past several years. Middle-income jobs in manufacturing and office work were permanently lost in the recession and have been replaced by lower-paying work in retail and fast food. Many of the unemployed have given up looking for work and are no longer counted as unemployed.

Nicholas Eberstadt, author of a new book, “Men Without Work,” notes that this has been a long-term phenomenon. For every unemployed man ages 25 through 54, three others are neither working nor looking for work. That ratio has doubled since 1990.

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AP Polling Editor Emily Swanson contributed to this report.

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Follow Chris Rugaber on Twitter at http://Twitter.com/ChrisRugaber


AP-GfK Poll: Most believe allegations about Trump and women
WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump’s behavior has long grated on Carolyn Miller, but the allegations he sexually assaulted women was one factor that helped her decide in the last week to cast her ballot for Hillary Clinton.
“I don’t think she’s a bad person. Trump, I think, is a bad person,” the 70-year-old Fort Myers, Florida, resident said. As for Trump’s accusers, Miller added, “I believe them.” And she said her vote for Clinton is “a default.”

Miller is among the more than 7 in 10 Americans who say in a new Associated Press-GfK poll that they believe the women who say the Republican presidential candidate kissed or groped them without their consent, a verdict that may have turned off enough voters, including some Republicans, to add to his challenges in the presidential race.

 Forty-two percent of Republican voters and 35 percent of Trump’s own supporters think the accusations are probably true. Men and women are about equally likely to think so.

While the poll suggests the wave of allegations about Trump’s treatment of women may blunt the impact of voters’ concerns about Clinton, it was taken before Friday’s news that the FBI will investigate whether there is classified information in newly uncovered emails related to its probe of her private server. Those emails were not from her server, according to a U.S. official who was not authorized to discuss details publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Before the development, the poll found that about half of voters say her use of the private server while she was secretary of state makes them less likely to vote for her. But they were more likely to say that Trump’s comments about women bother them a lot than to say the same about Clinton’s email server, 51 percent to 43 percent.

Since September, Clinton seems to have consolidated her support within her own party and drawn undecided voters such as Miller to her campaign, or at least pushed them away from Trump. The billionaire’s recent trouble with women seems to be one factor preventing him from doing the same.

He feuded with former Miss Universe Alicia Machado after Clinton noted he’d called her “Miss Piggy” for gaining weight while she wore the crown. Days later, a 2005 recording surfaced in which Trump can be heard describing himself sexually assaulting women in a conversation with Billy Bush, then the host of “Access Hollywood.”

Several women have since publicly accused Trump of groping and kissing them without permission, including a People magazine reporter who said Trump attacked her when his wife, Melania, was out of the room.

Trump called his remarks on the video “locker room talk,” dismissed the accusations as “fiction” and said of several accusers that they aren’t attractive enough to merit his attention.

Asked Thursday on Fox News Channel’s “The O’Reilly Factor” whether he thinks he would be ahead were it not for the “Access Hollywood” video, Trump replied, “I just don’t know. I think it was very negative.”

A majority of voters, 52 percent, say allegations about the way Trump treats women make them less likely to vote for him, including a fifth of Republican likely voters. And within that group, only about a third say they will vote for him, with about a third supporting Clinton and the remainder supporting third party candidates.

That may help explain why just 79 percent of Republican in the poll said they’re supporting Trump compared with 90 percent of Democrats supporting Clinton. Trump needs to close that gap to have any shot at victory.

Trump has tried to equate the accusations against him with charges of infidelity and sexual assault leveled for years against his rival’s husband, former President Bill Clinton. Trump has paraded the former president’s accusers before the cameras and accused Hillary Clinton of undermining her husband’s accusers.

The poll shows a majority of voters don’t buy Trump’s attempt at equivalence. Six in 10 say the allegations against the Clintons have no impact on their vote. That’s despite the fact that 63 percent think Hillary Clinton has probably threatened or undermined women who have accused her husband of sexual misconduct.

“The vote will be about Hillary Clinton, not her husband,” said Ryan Otteson, 33, of Salt Lake City, who’s voting for a third-party candidate, conservative independent Evan McMullin.

Valori Waggoner, a 26-year-old from Belton, Texas, said she believes Hillary Clinton probably did intimidate her husband’s accusers, but she said it makes no difference to how Waggoner is voting.

Waggoner was not going to vote for Clinton anyway, because as a doctor, Waggoner said she sees firsthand the inefficiency of the national health care plan that Clinton supports. But the alleged wrongdoing by Trump made her less likely to vote for the Republican. Instead, she’s backing Libertarian Gary Johnson.

The degree of alleged wrongdoing by the Republican and Democratic presidential candidates, Waggoner said, “are not equal.”

Most likely voters in the poll say they think Trump has little to no respect for women, with female voters especially likely to say he has none at all.

Clinton leads female likely voters by a 22 point margin in the poll, and even has a slight 5 point lead among men. In September’s AP-GfK poll, Clinton led women by a 17 point margin and trailed slightly by 6 points among men.

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The AP-GfK Poll of 1,546 adults, including 1,212 likely voters, was conducted online Oct. 20-24, 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 2.75 percentage points, and for likely voters is plus or minus 3.1 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:

Poll results: http://ap-gfkpoll.com