By LAURIE KELLMAN, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama is reaping political benefits from the country’s brighter economic mood. A new poll shows that Republicans and Democrats alike are increasingly saying the nation is heading in the right direction and most independents now approve the way he’s addressing the nation’s post-recession period.

     But trouble could be ahead: Still-struggling Americans are fretting over rising gasoline prices. Just weeks before the summer travel season begins, the Associated Press-GfK survey finds pump prices rising in importance and most people unhappy with how Democratic president has handled the issue.

     It’s seemingly no coincidence that Obama this week is promoting the expansion of domestic oil and gas exploration and the development of new forms of energy.

     It’s his latest attempt to show that he, more than any of the Republican presidential contenders, knows that voters’ pocketbooks remain pinched even as the economy improves overall. And on that question of empathy, solid majorities continue to view him as someone who “understands the problems of ordinary Americans” and “cares about people like you,” the AP-GfK survey found.

     There is evidence that the nation is becoming markedly more optimistic, and that Obama benefits from that attitude.

     Thirty percent in the poll describe the economy as “good,” a 15-point increase since December and the highest level since the AP-GfK poll first asked the question in 2009. Roughly the same share say the economy got better in the past month, while 18 percent said it got worse, the most positive read in over a year.

     Looking ahead, four in 10 said they expect the economy to get better in the next year and a third said they think the number of unemployed people in the U.S. will decrease, the highest share on either question since last spring. A quarter of those surveyed said they expect the economy to get worse over the next 12 months, while 31 percent said it would stay the same, the poll found.

     As optimism has risen, Obama has received a corresponding bump in his approval rating for handling the economy. Forty-eight percent now say they approve of how he’s handling it, up 9 points from December.

     Still, for some it’s hard to sense an improvement — or give Obama credit for it — when any extra money is being gobbled up at the gasoline pump.

     ”I give him credit for trying to make improvements, but I don’t believe it’s had that much effect,” said Michael Lee Real of Indianola, Iowa, a city water authority worker who counts himself as a Republican-leaning independent. The cost of gasoline is “one of the big things,” says Real, 58. “It fluctuates so much, it makes it hard for me to budget my money.”

     Overall, seven of 10 respondents called gas prices deeply important, up 6 points from December. Those who view gas prices as “extremely important” rose 9 points, to nearly 39 percent.

     The average cost of a gallon has risen 30 cents in that time, according to the Energy Information Administration.

     Views on the president’s handling of the issue are about the same as in December: Six in 10 respondents disapprove, including 36 percent who strongly feel that way, while 39 percent approve.

     Presidents don’t have a great deal of control over oil or gas prices, which now are being influenced by higher U.S. demand and tensions over Iran’s nuclear program. But few factors generate as much interest and anxiety among Americans. The rise in prices, faced almost daily by voters, could undercut Obama’s argument that he’s strengthening the economy and making families more financially secure.

     Though Obama’s approval rating on the economy has climbed, his negative rating on handling gas prices is stagnant. Just 39 percent approve of what he’s doing there, and 58 percent disapprove.

     Republicans, locked in battle for the right to face Obama in the general election, expect gas prices to be a top issue by the time Americans set out on their summer vacations. The four vying for the GOP nomination already are warning of higher prices and are pushing for more drilling and relaxed regulations on domestic oil production. Some are talking dollars and cents: Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is dangling the prospect of $2.50-a-gallon gas if he’s elected; former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum is warning of $5-a-gallon gas if he’s not.

     Generally, the public’s approval of Obama has risen with the economy’s climb from recession.

     The unemployment rate dropped to 8.3 percent in January, the lowest level in nearly three years. The housing market is flashing signs of health ahead of the spring buying season, with mortgage rates still low, sales of previously occupied homes at their highest level since May 2010, and more first-time buyers making purchases.

     The nation is far from a full recovery. Millions of Americans remain out of work. And Wall Street investors still worry over the details of Greece’s economic bailout plan.

     According to the poll, Obama’s overall approval rating ticked upward slightly, from 44 percent in December to 49 percent now.

     The 9-point approval increase for his handling of the economy comes from Democrats and independents, constituencies crucial to Obama’s re-election hopes. Among Democrats, his approval on the economy has shot from 67 percent to 83 percent. Among independents, 49 percent now approve, up from 38 percent in December.

     Obama also gained support among women during a period in which his administration seemed to stumble over whether religious employers should be forced to pay for contraception. In overall approval, Obama rebounded from 43 percent among women in December to 53 percent now, according to the survey.

     And half of all adults now say Obama deserves to be re-elected, a 7-point rise from December that reverses a downward trend that had been in place since May.

     More than eight in 10 Democrats say he should be elected to a second term, and half of all independents feel the same way, the survey found.

     The AP-GfK poll was conducted Feb. 16-20 by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cellphone interviews with 1,000 adults nationwide and had a margin of error of 4.1 percent.

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     AP Deputy Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta, Associated Press writer Stacy A. Anderson and News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.

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     Online:

     www.ap-GfKpoll.com

 

How the poll on President Obama and the economy was conducted

 

By The Associated Press

    The Associated Press-GfK Poll on President Obama and the economy was conducted by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications from Feb. 16-20. 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 cellular phones.

     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 one time in 20 should chance variations in the sample cause the results to vary by more than plus or minus 4.1 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 results are available at http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com and http://surveys.ap.org.

AP-GfK Poll: Americans prefer low prices to items ‘Made in the USA’
WASHINGTON (AP) — The vast majority of Americans say they prefer lower prices instead of paying a premium for items labeled “Made in the U.S.A.,” even if it means those cheaper items are made abroad, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll.

While presidential candidates like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are vowing to bring back millions of American jobs lost to China and other foreign competitors, public sentiment reflects core challenges confronting the U.S. economy. Incomes have barely improved, forcing many households to look for the most convenient bargains instead of goods made in America. Employers now seek workers with college degrees, leaving those with only a high school degree who once would have held assembly lines jobs in the lurch. And some Americans who work at companies with clients worldwide see themselves as part of a global market.

Nearly three in four say they would like to buy goods manufactured inside the United States, but those items are often too costly or difficult to find, according to the survey released Thursday. A mere 9 percent say they only buy American.

Asked about a real world example of choosing between $50 pants made in another country or an $85 pair made in the United States — one retailer sells two such pairs made with the same fabric and design — 67 percent say they’d buy the cheaper pair. Only 30 percent would pony up for the more expensive American-made one. People in higher earning households earning more than $100,000 a year are no less likely than lower-income Americans to say they’d go for the lower price.

“Low prices are a positive for US consumers — it stretches budgets and allows people to save for their retirements, if they’re wise, with dollars that would otherwise be spent on day-to-day living,” said Sonya Grob, 57, a middle school secretary from Norman, Oklahoma who described herself as a “liberal Democrat.”

But Trump and Sanders have galvanized many voters by attacking recent trade deals.

From their perspective, layoffs and shuttered factories have erased the benefits to the economy from reduced consumer prices.

“We’re getting ripped off on trade by everyone,” said Trump, the Republican front-runner, at a Monday speech in Albany, New York. “Jobs are going down the drain, folks.”

The real estate mogul and reality television star has threatened to shred the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada. He has also threatened to slap sharp tariffs on China in hopes of erasing the overall $540 billion trade deficit.

Economists doubt that Trump could deliver on his promises to create the first trade surplus since 1975. Many see the backlash against trade as frustration with a broader economy coping with sluggish income gains.

“The reaction to trade is less about trade and more about the decline in people’s ability to achieve the American Dream,” said Caroline Freund, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “It’s a lot easier to blame the foreigner than other forces that are affecting stagnant wage growth like technology.”

But Trump’s message appeals to Merry Post, 58, of Paris, Texas where the empty factories are daily reminders of what was lost. Sixty-eight percent of people with a favorable opinion of Trump said that free trade agreements decreased the number of jobs available to Americans.

“In our area down here in Texas, there used to be sewing factories and a lot of cotton gins,” Post said. “I’ve watched them all shut down as things went to China, Mexico and the Philippines. All my friends had to take early retirements or walk away.”

Sanders, the Vermont senator battling for the Democratic nomination, has pledged to end the exodus of jobs overseas.

“I will stop it by renegotiating all of the trade agreements that we have,” Sanders told the New York Daily News editorial board earlier this month, saying that the wages paid to foreigner workers and environmental standards would be part of any deal he would strike.

Still, voters are divided as to whether free trade agreements hurt job creation and incomes.

Americans are slightly more likely to say free trade agreements are positive for the economy overall than negative, 33 percent to 27 percent. But 37 percent say the deals make no difference. Republicans (35 percent) are more likely than Democrats (22 percent) to say free trade agreements are bad for the economy.

On jobs, 46 percent say the agreements decrease jobs for American workers, while 11 percent say they improve employment opportunities and 40 percent that they make no difference. Pessimism was especially pronounced among the 18 percent of respondents with a family member or friend whose job was offshored. Sixty-four percent of this group said free trade had decreased the availability of jobs.

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The AP-GfK Poll of 1,076 adults was conducted online March 31-April 4, 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 3.3 percentage points.

Respondents were first selected randomly using telephone 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:

http://ap-gfkpoll.com

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On Twitter follow Emily Swanson at @EL_Swan and Josh Boak at @joshboak


AP-GfK Poll: Public wants Senate action on court, but interest is modest

WASHINGTON (AP) — Nearly 2 in 3 Americans back Democrats’ demands that the Republican-run Senate hold hearings and a vote on President Barack Obama’s pick for the Supreme Court. But an Associated Press-GfK poll also suggests that GOP defiance against considering the nominee may not hurt the party much because, to many people, the election-year fight is simply not a big deal.

Just 1 in 5 in the survey released Wednesday said they’ve been following the battle over Obama’s nomination of federal judge Merrick Garland extremely or very closely.

That included just 26 percent of Democrats and 22 percent of Republicans expressing intense interest, along with a scant 8 percent of independents. That aligns with the political reading of the issue by many Republicans that while it motivates each side’s most committed partisans, people in the middle consider it a yawner — making the fight essentially a wash.

Another clue that voters not dedicated to either party find the court fight tiresome: While just over half of Democrats and Republicans said the issue is extremely or very important, only around a third of independents — and half of Americans overall — said so.

About 8 in 10 said that about the economy and about 7 in 10 took the same stance about health care and the threat posed by the Islamic State group. Immigration and the U.S. role in world affairs both attracted slightly more intensity of interest than the court battle.

“It gets me irritated, the bickering and all that kind of stuff,” Julie Christopher, 49, a Republican and flight attendant from Fort Worth, Texas, said in a follow-up interview, describing her modest attention to the issue.

Christopher said that while she agrees with the GOP’s refusal to hold hearings on Garland, when it comes to backing candidates in November, “That’s not going to be my only thing, like boom, I’m not going to vote for them.”

Hours after Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said his chamber would not consider an Obama nominee and would instead wait until the president elected this November makes a pick. With the remaining justices split 4-4 between those leaning conservative or liberal, most GOP senators have lined up behind McConnell.

Democrats have been spewing outrage ever since. Along with liberal groups, they’ve been using television ads, news conferences, public demonstrations and Senate speeches to ratchet up pressure on GOP senators, especially those facing re-election this fall in swing and Democratic-leaning states like Illinois, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Democrats’ theory is that the public wants Republicans to end their obstruction and let the Senate do its job, forcing GOP senators to relent on Garland or risk defeat in November. The AP-GfK poll has some data backing that up.

The 64 percent who favor hearings and a vote this year on Garland include an overwhelming proportion of Democrats and a sizable minority of Republicans, 40 percent. Independents, who can be pivotal in closely divided states, back action this year, 52 percent to 36 percent.

“I’d rather see at least deliberations, and see Congress do its job,” said Marc Frigon, 33, a high-tech worker from Beverly, Massachusetts, who leans Republican and wants the Senate to reject Garland’s confirmation. “I feel like that’s why we elected them in the first place.”

Just over half of moderate and liberal Republicans want the Senate to hold hearings this year, while fewer than 3 in 10 GOP conservatives say that.

Overall, people say by 59 percent to 36 percent that they want the Senate to approve Garland should a vote be held. Nearly 9 in 10 Democrats favor confirmation and independents tilt slightly that way, while 69 percent of Republicans favor rejecting him.

In another sign that the public tips toward Obama on the issue, 57 percent approve of the way he’s been handling the Garland nomination. That’s more than the number who gave the president positive reviews on any other issue in the poll: the economy, health care, Islamic State militants, immigration and world affairs.

The AP-GfK Poll of 1,076 adults was conducted online March 31-April 4, 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 3.3 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:

http://ap-gfkpoll.com