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: Trump supporters unfazed by reversal on self-funding

By JULIE BYKOWICZ and EMILY SWANSON

WESTFIELD, Ind. (AP) — Donald Trump’s voters adored him for mostly paying his own way in the first half of the presidential campaign. Yet those same people are shrugging their shoulders now that he’s raising money just like the rivals he once disparaged as the “puppets” of big donors.

A new Associated Press-GfK poll found that 63 percent of Trump supporters say they’re at least somewhat more likely to back a self-funded candidate, just as he once was. However, just 13 percent consider it a problem that Trump changed his mind — and nearly all those think it’s only a minor one.

How can people care so strongly about a candidate’s original stance and then not care at all when he changes his mind?

At a Trump rally this week near Indianapolis, some of his most ardent supporters explained their thinking. Many said it wouldn’t be fair for Trump, a billionaire businessman, to have to spend his own money against Hillary Clinton. The presumptive Democratic nominee and her allies aim to raise $1 billion for the general election.

“It was inspiring to see someone spend their own money rather than relying on lobbyists,” said 18-year-old Maxwell Nugent, who will be casting his first presidential vote for Trump this November. “It makes it more profound for him to be asking all the people who supported him to be giving money to the campaign now.”

Nugent, who wore a black T-shirt that reads: “Hillary’s Lies Matter,” said he likes that Trump “started from the bottom, with no donors.”

So far, Trump has put about $50 million of his own money into his campaign, mostly through personal loans which he says he will not seek to recoup. But he assembled a fundraising operation two months ago and has raised more than $51 million for his campaign and Republican Party allies.

Others who attended the Indiana rally said they have some concerns about Trump raising money — but also have faith that he won’t bend his policies to appease donors.

“A big thing with me is that since he is a billionaire, he doesn’t need to be bought,” said Diane Martinez, who lives in Westfield, Indiana, and leads a group called Save Our Veterans that supports Trump.

Trump has lamented the influence that super-donors such as Charles and David Koch and Sheldon Adelson hold over Republican politicians, naming those three specifically.

Yet he’s now developing a relationship with Adelson, a billionaire Las Vegas gaming executive, that could unleash streams of money to help him win the election. The Koch brothers have no plans to back Trump.

Americans have a negative view of the amount of money in politics. An AP-NORC poll conducted in November of 2015 found that 8 in 10 Americans, Republicans and Democrats alike, think campaign contributions influence the decisions that elected officials make.

Trump supporters are among those who see an issue with the way campaign funding works. In the AP-GfK poll, 51 percent of Trump supporters call the way presidential candidates raise money for their campaigns very or extremely important to them, similar to the 46 percent of all Americans who say that.

“We need absolute reform,” said Victor Wakley, another Save Our Veterans member at the Indiana rally for Trump. “I loved that he was paying his own way, and I do have some concerns now that he’s not.”

Democrat Bernie Sanders, who solicited only small donations online and held no traditional fundraisers, made campaign finance reform a pillar of his presidential campaign. Clinton also has promised to press for an end to unlimited money that flows into campaigns through super political action committees, although she is making full use of those groups in her 2016 bid.

Trump has called super PACs “corrupt” but offered no policy proposals about campaign finance. He’s also stopped talking about the corrosive effect of donor money since he began raising it.

In an AP interview this spring, Trump said he is raising money only to help the Republican Party, and he has repeatedly said it would be easier for him to just write a big check to his own campaign. He also stresses that his campaign fundraising is coming from small donors, the way Sanders’ fundraising was.

None of those statements is entirely true.

Trump’s fundraising deal with the party includes a provision that the first $2,700 of any donation go to his campaign. The rest of it — up to about $500,000 per donor — is divided among the national party and some state Republican groups.

Online solicitations accounted for less than half of the money Trump raised in late May and June, and it’s not clear how much of it was from small donors. Fundraising reports to federal regulators are due Wednesday night.

On Trump’s self-funding reversal, 16 percent of all Americans polled by AP-GfK considered it a major problem and 21 percent a minor problem.

Among Clinton supporters, 26 percent say they’re at least somewhat more likely to support a candidate who’s funding his or her own campaign, but more than half say they consider Trump’s reversal to be a problem, including 27 percent who say they think it’s a major problem.

The Trump supporters say it’s no surprise Democrats are trying to emphasize Trump’s switch from self-funding to traditional funding.

“There are a couple of ways to look at it,” said Jerry Loza, a Trump supporter at the Indiana rally. “You could say it’s hypocrisy. You could also say it’s a different game now.”

The AP-GfK Poll of 1,009 adults was conducted online July 7-11, 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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Keep track on how much Clinton and Trump are spending on television advertising, and where they’re spending it, via AP’s interactive ad tracker. http://elections.ap.org/content/ad-spending

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Online:

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


AP-GfK Poll: Voters split over how to secure US from illegal immigration
By EMILY SWANSON and VIVIAN SALAMA

WASHINGTON (AP) — Most Americans reject Donald Trump’s proposal to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico and his support for deporting those in the country illegally. But they’re divided on the presumptive Republican nominee’s proposed temporary ban on the entry of Muslims from other countries, a new survey finds.

The poll shows Trump’s shifting rhetoric on that ban might win some Americans over.

When it comes to Trump’s proposal to build a wall along the Mexican border, about 6 in 10 Americans oppose the idea while 4 in 10 are for it, the new Associated Press-GfK poll indicated.

Similarly, 6 in 10 Americans favor providing a way for immigrants who are in the country illegally to become U.S. citizens, while about 4 in 10 are opposed.
Seventy-six percent of Democrats, along with 44 percent of Republicans, favor a path to citizenship for immigrants in the country illegally. Among Trump’s supporters, just 38 percent are in favor of a path to citizenship. Sixty-seven percent of Republicans and just 21 percent of Democrats favor a border wall. Three-quarters of Trump’s supporters favor that proposal.

Trump’s likely rival, Democrat Hillary Clinton, has cast his calls for the border wall and temporary foreign Muslims ban as dangerous.

Trump supporter Marile Womack, 79, of Debary, Florida, adamantly favors the border wall. No one else “had the guts to do it,” she said. But the daughter of Austrian immigrants isn’t opposed to immigration from any country so long as it’s done legally.

“I don’t favor banning immigrants, but I am for investigating them before they come,” she said.

In contrast, Mark Wecker, a car salesman from Redding, California, called a border wall stupid, because “it’s a lot of money and it’s not going to keep them out if they want to get in.”

Three-quarters of Latinos, two-thirds of African-Americans and more than half of whites favor providing a path to citizenship. Forty-eight percent of whites, 26 percent of blacks and just 16 percent of Latinos favor a border wall.

Daniella Gil, a stay-at-home-mom from Cornelius, Oregon, who is the daughter of Mexican immigrants, said, “We should be focusing on the violence coming from Syria as opposed to Hispanics jumping the border.”

She said she supports immigration from any country so long as it’s done legally.

Americans are slightly more likely to oppose than favor a temporary ban on Muslims who are not U.S. citizens from entering the United States, by a 52 percent to 45 percent margin that has been strikingly consistent in AP-GfK polls conducted this year.

Sixty-nine percent of Republicans say they favor the temporary ban on Muslim immigration, while 68 percent of Democrats are opposed. Half of whites and just a third of non-whites say they favor the ban. Seventy-six percent of Trump supporters are in favor.

On a trip to Scotland last month, Trump shifted his rhetoric, saying he would instead “want terrorists out” of the U.S., and to do so, he would limit people’s entry from “specific terrorist countries and we know who those terrorist countries are.”

The poll indicates that rhetorical shift could win support. Among those asked more broadly about a temporary ban on immigrants from areas of the world where there is a history of terrorism against the U.S. or its allies, 63 percent are in favor and 34 percent opposed. Ninety-four percent of Trump supporters say they favor this proposal, as do 45 percent of Clinton supporters.

“That’s a necessity for creating stability,” said Ryan Williams, 40, a health care provider from Jacksonville, North Carolina.

Most Americans — 53 percent — think the United States is currently letting in too many refugees from Syria, engulfed in civil war since 2011 and the Islamic State militant group’s de facto center. President Barack Obama has pledged to admit some 10,000 Syrian refugees this year.

Another 33 percent think the current level is about right, while just 11 percent want to let in more. About 4 in 10 think there’s a very or somewhat high risk of refugees committing acts of religious or political violence in the United States, 34 percent think the risk moderate, and 24 percent consider it very or somewhat low.

Seventy-six percent of Republicans think the U.S. should allow fewer refugees. Among Democrats, 43 percent think the current level is about right, 38 percent think the U.S. should allow fewer, and 18 percent want to allow more.

Said Gil, the stay-at-home mom from Oregon, “Some of those people are innocent kids.”

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The AP-GfK Poll of 1,009 adults was conducted online July 7-11, 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:

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

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Follow Vivian Salama and Emily Swanson on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/vmsalama and http://twitter.com/EL_Swan