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-WE tv Poll: As women earn and learn more, traditional gender roles still drive dating scene

By JENNIFER AGIESTA, Associated Press

 WASHINGTON (AP) — Who ever said the dating game was logical?

 A new Associated Press-WE tv poll turns up all kinds of contradictions when people lay out their thoughts on dating, especially when it comes to money and gender roles.

 Seven in 10 of those surveyed say it’s unacceptable to expect a date to pay for everything. But most still say it’s a man’s job to pay for the first date.

Most say it’s OK to ask someone out because he or she seems successful. But even more say it’s unacceptable to turn down people because they haven’t had much success.

One-third think it’s OK to search for online clues about a potential first date’s success in life. But very few say daters should pay attention to each other’s finances before they are exclusive.

Overall, the traits that men and women rate as important hew to traditional gender roles.

Men and women agree that personality is the most important trait to consider when deciding whether to go on a first date with someone, and very few say money is a top consideration. Yet for men, a sense of humor outweighs intelligence, and they are more apt than women to prioritize looks. Most women place greater emphasis on a suitor’s financial situation and career ambitions.

It’s not just older people who feel that way. The differences are amplified among younger singles. About half of single men under age 45 say looks are a priority, while 70 percent of single women under 45 call career ambitions key.

There’s a clear gender gap on finances.

Men are less likely than women to say they’re comfortable dating someone who makes significantly more money than they do. Seventy-one percent of women would be comfortable in that situation, compared with 59 percent of men. Women are more wary of dating someone who earns less. Forty-three percent of men would be OK dating someone with a significantly lower salary, but just 28 percent of women would.

More broadly, uncoupled Americans are squeamish about dating those whose financial situations may not equal their own.

A shaky financial past is generally acceptable, and more say they’re comfortable dating someone who grew up in a poor family than in a wealthy one. But a questionable present inspires doubt.

Just 16 percent say they would be comfortable dating someone who is unemployed, and 23 percent say they would be comfortable dating someone with significant student loan debt.

Once dating turns to commitment and love, money is a bigger consideration for women when deciding whether to wed.

Among men who aren’t married or living with a partner, 84 percent say they’d marry someone they love regardless of whether she or he could provide financial security. Women are more cautious, with 61 percent would choose marriage for love without regard to financial standing.

Over time, Americans’ views on how women ought to balance family and career have shifted in favor of greater choice for women. But the poll also finds a more restrictive view on how men with a family ought to view their career, suggesting the rules many apply to dating continue once families are formed.

A Time/Yankelovich survey conducted in March 1978 found that about three-quarters of Americans felt women ought to put their husbands and children ahead of their careers and felt women with young children shouldn’t work outside the home unless it’s financially necessary. Now, about half hold those views.

But the AP-WE tv poll also found that half of Americans believe a man with a family has a responsibility to choose a higher-paying job over one that is more satisfying, compared with 42 percent who felt that way in 1978.

The poll was conducted in conjunction with WE tv ahead of the launch of the show “Mystery Millionaire.”

The poll was conducted May 16-19 using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based online panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,354 adults, including an oversample of 310 adults who have never been married. Results for all respondents have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods and were later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were provided with the ability to access the Internet at no cost to them.

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AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.

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Online:

AP-GfK Poll: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com


AP-GfK Poll: Sign-up success fails to translate into broad approval for Obama’s health law

By RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR and JENNIFER AGIESTA, Associated Press

 WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama celebrated when sign-ups for his health care law topped 8 million, far exceeding expectations after a slipshod launch. Most Americans, however, remain unimpressed.

 A new Associated Press-GfK poll finds that public opinion continues to run deeply negative on the Affordable Care Act, Obama’s signature effort to cover the uninsured. Forty-three percent oppose the law, compared with just 28 percent in support.

 The pattern illustrates why the health care law remains a favored target for Republicans seeking a Senate majority in the midterm elections.

 The poll does have a bright spot for the administration: Those who signed up for coverage aren’t reeling from sticker shock. Most said they found premiums in line with what they expected, or even lower.

But even that was diminished by another finding: More than one-third of those who said they or someone in their household tried to enroll, were ultimately unable to do so. For the White House, it’s an uncomfortable reminder of the technical problems that paralyzed the HealthCare.gov website for weeks after it went live last fall.

The example of business owner Henry Kulik shows some of the cross-currents of public opinion.

Kulik is disabled as a result of Lou Gehrig’s disease, a condition that destroys the brain’s ability to control muscle movement. His family runs several stores that sell ice cream and other summer refreshments in the Philadelphia area.

Kulik says he doesn’t believe the federal government should require people to carry health insurance, as the law does. And he can understand worries about the cost to taxpayers. On the other hand, he’s been able to slash what his family pays for health insurance by purchasing coverage through the law’s new insurance markets and by taking advantage of tax credits to lower the premiums.

Before the law, his family was paying $2,400 a month. Now it’s several hundred dollars. And Kulik says the insurance for himself, his wife, and three children is comparable to what they had before.

‘‘I think there is a lot of misinformation,’’ he says.

Obama’s health care law offers subsidized private coverage to middle-class people who have no health plan on the job, and it expands Medicaid to pick up low-income uninsured adults. But last fall’s launch of new health insurance markets was paralyzed technical problems. The debacle contributed to the departure of health secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

After Congress approved the law in 2010, a political backlash over its Medicare cuts, tax increases and new regulations helped Republicans win the House. This fall the GOP is following a similar strategy with the Senate at stake.

‘‘Republicans hold an advantage on this issue among people who feel strongly about it,’’ said Robert Blendon of the Harvard School of Public Health, who follows opinion trends on health care.

Still, just 17 percent of poll respondents said the law will be completely repealed. While that represents an increase of 5 percentage points from March, the poll found that 67 percent believe the health law will be implemented with changes, whether major or superficial.

In Walhalla, South Carolina, digital publisher Greg Freeman says he’s no big fan of the president. But now into his late 30s, Freeman thought it would be a good idea to get health insurance through the new law. It took several tries to navigate the federal enrollment website, but Freeman says he’s generally satisfied. His main complaint is that his new doctor is about an hour away, in a bigger town to the east.

‘‘I can see if some of the kinks can be worked out this could be a very positive thing in the long run,’’ Freeman said. ‘‘We should be in a position to be healthiest country in the world.’’

The poll found that sign-up success translated into higher approval for the health care law. Among those who succeeded in purchasing coverage, 51 percent back the law, compared with 30 percent among those who tried to sign up and weren’t successful.

In the tiny coastal Oregon town of Reedsport, locksmith Marvin Plunkett says he’s disappointed that public opinion about the law remains so negative. He was able to gain coverage through the state’s expanded Medicaid program.

Plunkett recalled former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin’s discredited charge that the law would set up ‘‘death panels’’ to judge whether seniors should receive medical care. ‘‘The truth about it is pretty mundane,’’ he said. ‘‘But the lies are really exciting and emotional.’’

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted May 16-19, 2014 using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based online panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,354 adults, and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points for all respondents.

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Associated Press News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.

Online:

AP-GfK Poll: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com.