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.


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




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 .

Topline results are available at and

AP-GfK Poll: Clerks must issue gay marriage licenses
WASHINGTON (AP) — Linda Massey opposes gay marriage. But she was incensed last summer to see that Kim Davis, a Kentucky county clerk, was refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples.

“If the government says you have to give out those marriage licenses, and you get paid to do it, you do it,” says the 64-year-old retiree from Lewiston, Michigan. “That woman,” she said of Davis, “should be out of a job.”

Americans like Massey are at the heart of a shift in public opinion, an Associated Press-GfK poll has found. For the first time, most Americans expect government officials to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, even over religious objections.

It’s partly a matter of expecting public servants to do their jobs. But more broadly, the issue touches on a familiar dispute over which constitutional value trumps which: religious freedom, or equality under the law?

The question in recent months has entangled leaders with political sway, among them Pope Francis and the 2016 presidential contenders. But it’s not a new conflict for a nation that has long wrestled with the separation of church and state.

Where Davis’s answer was the First Amendment’s protection of religious freedom — and she served jail time to back it up — a majority of respondents don’t buy that argument when it comes to public officials issuing marriage licenses. That’s a shift since an AP-GfK survey in July, when Americans were about evenly split. Then, 49 percent said officials with religious objections should be exempt from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples and 47 percent said they should be required to issue them.

Now, just 41 percent favor an exemption and 56 percent think they should be required to issue the licenses.

That shift was especially stark among Republicans. A majority of them —58 percent — still favor religious exemptions for officials issuing marriage licenses, but that’s down 14 points since 72 percent said so in July.

The timing of the surveys is important, coming during rapid developments in the politics of gay rights and religious freedom.

Public opinion has favored same-sex marriage in recent years and some politicians — President Barack Obama, 2016 presidential contender Hillary Rodham Clinton and some members of Congress among them — have come around to that view. In June, the Supreme Court effectively legalized gay marriage nationwide.

The cultural change has influenced the governing bodies of some of the most conservative religions, including the Catholic Church under Pope Francis and the Mormon Church, which last week called for compromises between protecting religious liberties and prohibiting discrimination. Both institutions are trying to accommodate society’s shifting views while keeping a firm grip internally on their own doctrines against gay marriage and homosexual activity. And both churches steered clear of the appearance of backing Davis. The Vatican said the pope’s brief meeting with her in Washington should not be construed as a sign of support.

Mormon leader Dallin H. Oaks last week told a closed gathering of judges and clergy in Sacramento, California, that when conflicts between religion and law rise and are decided, citizens of a democracy must follow court rulings.

Davis, a Democrat, Apostolic Christian and clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky, became the face of religious Americans who bristle at government requirements that conflict with their beliefs, whether those mandates cover gay marriage, contraception or abortion referrals. On June 27 — the day after the high court ruling — Davis refused to issue same-sex marriage licenses. In September she spent five days in jail for defying a court order to issue the licenses. Affixing her name to the certificate, she wrote in a statement, “would violate my conscience.” After serving her jail sentence, Davis returned to work — but her name no longer appears on marriage licenses for gay couples.

Nick Hawks, a business consultant in Ararat, North Carolina, agrees with Davis.

“We’ve got to decide at some point who’s going to be protected first,” said the father of three boys, 50, who says he’s a Republican-leaning independent. “It doesn’t seem quite fair” to allow a minority such as gay people to “control the policy.”

More generally, the poll offers evidence that Americans remain slightly more likely to say that it’s more important for the government to protect religious liberties than the rights of gays and lesbians when the two come into conflict, 51 percent to 45 percent. But that, too, is a slight shift since July, when 56 percent said it’s more important to protect religious liberties.


The AP-GfK Poll of 1,027 adults was conducted online Oct. 15 to Oct. 19, 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.



Poll results:

AP-GfK Poll: Americans still feeling economic gloom

WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans are more likely than they were a year ago to have positive views of the nation’s economy, but they’re still feeling more pessimism than optimism, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll conducted ahead of CNBC’s GOP primary debate on Wednesday.

The candidates will attempt to impress Republicans in particular, who the poll finds feel much gloomier about the economy than Democrats.

Here are some things to know about opinions on the economy from the latest AP-GfK poll:



A majority of Americans — 54 percent — say the nation’s economy is poor, the new poll shows. Just 45 percent call it good. Still, views of the economy are slightly rosier than they were over the summer, when a July AP-GfK poll found 41 percent of Americans described the economy as good, and more positive than they were a year ago, when just 38 percent said so.

Half of men, but just 4 in 10 women, describe the economy as good.

Americans are even less likely to see the nation heading in a positive direction overall. Just 36 percent think the country is heading in the right direction, while 63 percent think it’s headed in the wrong direction.

More than 8 in 10 Americans in the new poll described the economy as an extremely or very important issue, down slightly since July. Still, the economy rates higher in importance than any other issue in the poll.



The candidates will aim their messages at a Republican Party that has a particularly negative view of the economy.

While 65 percent of Democrats describe the economy as good, just 29 percent of Republicans say the same. Seven in 10 Republicans say the economy is poor, including more than 8 in 10 GOP supporters of the tea party. Eight-five percent of Republicans say the country is heading in the wrong direction.

Independents, too, are unhappy with the economy, with 33 percent seeing it as good and 62 percent poor.



Few Americans — just 17 percent — think the economy has improved over the past month, while 21 percent think it has gotten worse and the bulk — 60 percent — think it’s stayed about the same.

Most Americans don’t expect to see improvement in either the nation’s economy or their own financial situations in the next year, either.

Thirty-one percent say they expect the general economic situation to get better, 32 percent expect it to get worse, and 34 percent expect it to stay about the same. Likewise, 29 percent expect their household financial situation to get better, 25 percent expect it to get worse, and 44 percent expect it to stay the same.

Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say the economy has gotten worse in the last month, 31 percent to 13 percent. Democrats are more likely than Republicans to expect it to get better in the next year, 40 percent to 21 percent.



Whichever GOP candidate emerges victorious in next year’s presidential primaries will need to convince Americans that the party can do a better job than Democrats at handling economic issues.

Americans are slightly more likely to say they trust Democrats than Republicans more on handling the economy, 29 percent to 24 percent, the poll shows.

But neither party’s a clear winner on the issue — 15 percent say they trust both equally and 30 percent say they trust neither party.

Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say they trust neither party, 29 percent to 17 percent. A majority of independents — 55 percent — don’t trust either party.



Americans are slightly more likely to disapprove than approve of President Barack Obama’s handling of the economy, 52 percent to 46 percent, according to the new poll. But that’s an apparent rise in his approval rating on the issue since July, when just 42 percent said they approved.

Americans’ rating of Obama on the economy is nearly identical to how they feel about how he’s handling his job overall, with 46 percent approving and 52 percent disapproving.


The AP-GfK Poll of 1,027 adults was conducted online from Oct. 15 to 19. The sample was 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 selected randomly using telephone or mail survey methods and interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel without Internet access were provided it for free.



Poll results: