By LYNN BERRY and LAURA MILLS, Associated Press

MOSCOW (AP) — The success and possible future undoing of President Vladimir Putin lies in the contrast between people like provincial housewife Yekaterina Arsentyeva and Moscow student Kirill Guskov.

In the southern city of Rostov-on-Don, Arsentyeva sees Putin as the only man who can ensure her children have a decent future. In the capital, Guskov can’t hide his contempt for Russia’s leader and the culture of corruption he has overseen: “A fish rots from its head,” he fumes.

An Associated Press-GfK poll released Monday reveals a stark divide between Moscow and the rest of Russia over the man who has ruled the country for the past 12 years. A total of 60 percent of Russians maintain a favorable opinion of the president as he begins his third term. In contrast, only 38 percent in the capital — where tens of thousands have joined anti-Putin protests — have a favorable view of him.

 The division extends to views on the fairness of elections and the state of the economy, while almost all agree that corruption is among the most serious problems facing Russia today.

 The split promises to have profound, albeit still unknown, consequences for the future of the protest movement and of Putin himself. The outcome depends in large part on the economy, which the poll shows is the primary concern of most Russians. While anger over the trampling of democratic rights has brought Muscovites out to protest in droves, any deterioration in living standards could prove the catalyst for protests in the provinces. Pending hikes in utilities prices have the potential to cause broad discontent.

 The mood in the hinterlands may also change as more people gain access to the Internet and the social networks that have been crucial to the rise of the protest movement in Moscow and other large cities.

 For now, people like the 39-year-old Arsentyeva have no sympathy for the protest movement and the educated, urban professionals who have been its driving force.

 ”If they don’t like our country, why do they live here? Let them go to Europe or America and express their dissatisfaction there,” she said. Her hopes are pinned firmly on Putin.

 ”My husband works in a good company that is growing, we have a stable income, I can easily buy diapers, soap, anything my children need and I don’t have to stand in line or run around in search of goods in short supply,” said Arsentyeva, who is expecting her second child.

 Her views reflect a deep-seated fear of social upheaval and of a return to the turmoil of the 1990s, the decade following the Soviet collapse, when salaries often went unpaid for months and store shelves were thinly stocked.

 Nikolai Petrov, who studies Russian regional politics at the Carnegie Moscow Center, said that Putin’s popularity should be considered support for the existing order and not for Putin himself. “The majority of Russians are still not ready to change the whole system,” Petrov said.

 Putin’s approval rating hit a high of 81 percent as he wrapped up his second term in 2008, according to the Levada Center, which measures his current overall rating at 60 percent, about the same as the 58 percent registered in the AP-GfK poll. Putin handed over the presidency to his junior partner, Dmitry Medvedev, but as prime minister he remained the dominant player in Russian politics.

 Putin’s decision in September to reclaim the presidency, followed by his party’s victory in a December parliamentary election through what observers said was widespread fraud, set off protests across Russia.

 After Putin won the March presidential election with 64 percent of the vote, the protests died away in much of the country except for Moscow and St. Petersburg.

 The AP-GfK poll indicates that Putin retains broad support, although only 18 percent expressed a strongly favorable view of him. At the other end of the spectrum, 14 percent expressed a somewhat or strongly unfavorable view. The majority falls in between, passively supportive but some increasingly cynical.

 Magomed Abakarov, who works for the government in the North Caucasus city of Makhachkala, voted for Putin, but his support is tepid at best.

 ”I consider him a liar and a fake,” Abakarov said. “Someday we’ll know who the real Mr. Putin is, but under the current circumstances he is the best candidate for president. He can talk tough with the leader of any country.”

 The majority of Russians see their country as a stronger international power than it was before Putin became president in 2000, according to the poll.

 Like many Russians, Abakarov said he voted for Putin because there was no viable alternative in a country where only Kremlin-approved candidates are allowed to run for president. Putin has centralized control over the political system, preventing the emergence of independent political leaders and reducing parliament to a rubber stamp.

 The presidency is now the only institution that at least half of Russians feel can be trusted to do what is right, according to the AP-GfK poll. The military, still manned by conscripts, comes next with the trust of 41 percent.

 The parliament only has the trust of about a quarter of the people and the same goes for the courts, which have been compromised by corrupt judges. Just 18 percent say they trust the police, who are notorious for shaking down motorists.

 Corruption is among Russians’ biggest concerns, with 91 percent of those surveyed in Moscow calling it a serious problem and almost as many, 85 percent, of those outside the capital saying the same. Even though Putin has failed to deliver on repeated pledges to crack down on corrupt officials, most Russians don’t hold him responsible.

 Grigory Mikheyev, a 28-year-old systems administrator in the far eastern town of Dalnegorsk, complained of a system of double standards.

 ”The laws seem fine, but they only apply to the selected few,” he said. “The simple people get punished, while the bureaucrats get rich.”

 Still, Mikheyev said he generally approves of Putin.

 In keeping with the disparity between the capital and the rest of the country, Muscovites are far more likely to see election fraud as a serious problem: 56 percent compared with 37 percent elsewhere.

 Guskov, the 21-year-old Moscow student, expressed frustration over what he sees as one-man rule.

 ”He is still a czar and Russia is the kind of country where a lot depends on a single person,” Guskov said. “But we as a people are trying to do something, so we go to protests and demonstrate our discontent.”

 A major factor behind the divergence between Moscow and the rest of Russia is that about half of those surveyed live in small towns and rural areas, where most people still get their news from the Kremlin-controlled national television networks.

 Half of the respondents outside the capital said they do not use the Internet, compared with only 10 percent in Moscow. Without access to the Internet, they have not seen the flood of videos purporting to show blatant vote rigging or read about alleged corruption in political and business circles close to Putin.

 Without the Internet, many Russians are unlikely to know much about Alexei Navalny, a charismatic corruption fighter and blogger who is a leader of the anti-Putin protest movement. In Moscow, only 15 percent said they had no opinion of Navalny, compared with 46 percent in the rest of the country.

 This may change, however, as the number of Internet users rises steadily. The Public Opinion Foundation said 38 percent of Russians now use the Internet daily, up from 22 percent just two years ago.

 Residents of Moscow also differ from the rest of their countrymen with their far more pessimistic view of Russia’s oil-based economy, perhaps because they are more aware of the challenges ahead.

 To consolidate his base ahead of the election, Putin promised higher wages and benefits to soldiers, police, doctors and teachers. He pledged to pump billions of dollars into ailing industrial plants and the military.

 But economists warn that the additional spending is unsustainable if oil prices remain low. Russia is able to balance its budget if the Urals blend of oil stays above $115, but it is currently trading at closer to $90.

 Sergei Mikheyev, an analyst with the Center for Political Technologies, said the economic troubles would have to be lasting and deep to drive people in the region out onto the streets.

 ”To make the regions rise up in a revolt, the oil price will need to take a dramatic toll on living standards, for example by making millions of people jobless,” he said.

 Petrov, the Carnegie scholar, is more pessimistic. He points to substantial hikes in the cost of heating and electricity that will go into effect in July and begin to bite once the weather turns cold, coupled with unpopular new taxes and education reforms going into effect in September.

 ”We’ve witnessed a big wave of political protests, with Moscow as the leader, in big cities. I don’t think this political protest will go down to small towns, but in the fall there will be socio-economic protests, and socio-economic protests across the country combined with political protests in the big cities will create a deadly mix.”

 The AP-GfK poll was conducted by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications from May 25 to June 10 and was based on in-person interviews with 1,675 randomly selected adults nationwide. The results have a margin of error of 2.9 percentage points.

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Liya Khabarova in Vladivostok, Arsen Mollayev in Makhachkala, Sergei Venyavsky in Rostov-on-Don and Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow contributed to this report.

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On the Net:

www.ap-gfkpoll.com

 How the AP-GfK Poll was conducted

 The Associated Press-GfK Poll in Russia, on attitudes and opinions of Russians, was conducted by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications from May 25-June 10. It is based on a national random sample of 1,675 Russians age 18 and older from different interviewing locations.

 One hundred cities and districts were initially selected, with probably proportionate to size. Next 200 urban and rural blocks were randomly selected from the 100.

 Excluded from the block selection were remote and low-populated areas, including some high-mountain terrain, and clusters of minority and ethnic groups whose command of Russian was limited. The lack of official statistics makes it difficult to estimate the amount of non-coverage, but it is probably somewhere between 3 and 6 percent.

 In the blocks, interviewers were assigned random routes with rules to randomly select a household for the interview. Interviewers then recorded the number of adults in the household and randomly selected on adult for the interview. Interviewers revisited the home if the selected adult was not present.

 Interviews were conducted in Russian.

 As done routinely in surveys, results were weighted, or adjusted, to ensure that responses accurately reflect the population’s makeup. The sample was weighted to take into account the sampling method, as well as for age and sex.

 No more than one time in 20 should chance variations in the sample cause the results to vary by more than plus or minus 2.9 percentage points from the answers that would be obtained if all adults in Russia were polled.

 There are other sources of potential error in polls, including the wording and order of questions.

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

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

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