By TOM RAUM and JENNIFER AGIESTA, Associated Press

 WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans are growing more pessimistic about the economy and handling it remains President Barack Obama’s weak spot and biggest challenge in his bid for a second term, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll.

And the gloomier outlook extends across party lines, including a steep decline in the share of Democrats who call the economy “good,” down from 48 percent in February to just 31 percent now.

Almost two-thirds of Americans — 65 percent — disapprove of Obama’s handling of gas prices, up from 58 percent in February. Nearly half, 44 percent, “strongly disapprove.” And just 30 percent said they approve, down from 39 percent in February.

These findings come despite a steady decline in gas prices in recent weeks after a surge earlier in the year. The national average for a gallon of gasoline stood at $3.75, down from a 2012 peak of $3.94 on April 1.

U.S. presidents have limited ability to affect gas prices, which are determined in international markets. However, the party out of power always blames whoever is president at the time for high gas prices, as Republican Mitt Romney is doing now and as Democrat Obama did in 2008 when George W. Bush sat in the Oval Office.

Of all the issues covered by the poll, Obama’s ratings on gas prices were his worst.

The public’s views tilt negative on his handling of the overall economy, 52 percent disapprove while 46 percent approve. In February, Americans were about evenly divided on his handling of the issue.

The economy is the No. 1 issue in the presidential race, thanks to the deepest economic downturn since the Great Depression and one of the shallowest-ever recoveries.

While the recession officially ended in summer 2009, unemployment remains stubbornly high, at 8.1 percent in April. Some 12.5 million Americans are out of work.

The increasing skepticism toward the recovery tracks a weakening overall economy as measured by the gross domestic product, and matches economic growth downgrades by many economic forecasters.

Against this background, the weak economy looms as a huge liability for Obama, and any drop in public confidence in his ability to deal with it can threaten his re-election prospects. Although Obama held broad advantages over Romney on handling social issues and protecting the country, when it came to the economy about the same percentage said they trust Romney to handle it as trust Obama.

Mindful of Obama’s vulnerability, Romney focuses frequently on the economy, suggesting that his business background makes him the candidate who can create jobs. Like most Republicans, he blames Obama’s policies for making the economy worse.

Obama acknowledges that times remain hard for many, but says conditions are slowly improving. He suggests the best chance for full recovery is if voters stick with him.

Heather Beckman, 29, of Lantana, Fla., is a Democrat who said she’s undecided about her vote but leaned to Obama. She believes the president can put the economy back on track, but not by himself. “At some point, the Republicans and Democrats have to come together to turn the economy around. As well as the rest of the country.”

However, Republican Roni Lovell, 68, of Edgewood, Wash., said Romney’s the one to help the economy turn the corner. “He has helped some really big companies come out of their financial woes,” said the retired school administrator. “Obama has proved he can’t do it and it’s time someone else gives it a try.”

The poll shows that optimism on an economic recovery earlier this year has all but stalled. The share of Americans describing the economy as “good” dropped 10 points since February, to 20 percent. Two-thirds see the economy as “poor” and about one in seven say it’s somewhere in between. And just 22 percent say the economy got better in the past month, down from 28 percent saying so in February.

Democrats remain more optimistic about the economy in the coming year than do independents and Republicans, but still, the percentage that is hopeful for improvement in the next year dipped 10 points since February.

Fewer than one in three expect their household’s economic fortunes to improve in the coming year, down from 37 percent in February. Eighteen percent see their finances as worsening, up from 11 percent in February.

And 35 percent expect the unemployment rate, which has been inching down for months, to start going back up. Thirty percent thought that in February. Independents are closer to Republicans than Democrats on that issue, with only 18 percent of independents and Republicans optimistic that the jobless rate will improve, while 40 percent of Democrats expect it to.

For now, Obama remains popular. His approval rating stands at 53 percent. But a stalling recovery could cause it to slide.

The AP-GfK poll was conducted May 3-7 by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cell phone interviews with 1,004 adults nationwide and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.

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Associated Press writer Stacy A. Anderson and News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed this report.

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Online: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com

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Follow Tom Raum and Jennifer Agiesta on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/tomraum and http://www.twitter.com/jennagiesta

 How the poll was conducted

 By The Associated Press

 The Associated Press-GfK Poll on President Barack Obama and the economy was conducted by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications from May 3-7. It is based on landline and cellphone telephone interviews with a nationally representative random sample of 1,004 adults. Interviews were conducted with 703 respondents on landline telephones and 301 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 3.9 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-Times Square Poll: Shootings Weighed on Americans in 2015
By Verena Dobnik, Associated Press
Mass shootings and attacks weighed heavily on the minds of Americans in 2015, according to a new poll that found most believe this year was worse for the world than last year.A look at the key findings of The Associated Press-Times Square Alliance poll:

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PREOCCUPIED BY MASS SHOOTINGS

Americans say the most important events of 2015 were a string of mass shootings, including the attacks in San Bernardino, California, and Paris, plus Islamic State group atrocities.

Fifty-seven percent of those polled say this year was worse than the last year for the world as a whole, up from the 38 percent asked that question a year ago. Only 10 percent believe 2015 was a better year than 2014, while 32 percent think there wasn’t much difference.

Americans also are much less likely than they were a year ago to believe that the current year was better for the United States — only 17 percent compared with 30 percent a year ago. Thirty-seven percent think this year was worse for the country than last year, while 44 percent don’t think there was much difference.

On a personal level, fewer than a third (29 percent) believe 2015 was better for them than 2014, while 21 percent feel it was worse, compared with 15 percent in 2014.

Interviewed separately from the poll, Jason Pruitt, a 43-year-old corporate pilot from the Detroit area, said security concerns were a factor in deciding whether to take his wife and daughter along on a Christmas trip to New York.

“We were thinking about not coming this year, because of everything that’s going on,” Pruitt said. But they went ahead “because when you change your life, the terrorists win.”

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THREE EVENTS SHARE THE TOP SPOT

Of those polled, 68 percent listed mass shootings in the U.S. as very or extremely important news events this year, including the one in San Bernardino that heightened fears of domestic terrorism, plus shootings in Charleston, South Carolina; Roseburg, Oregon; and Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Close behind, at 64 percent, were the Paris attacks that ushered in 2015, targeting Charlie Hebdo and the Jewish market, then the Bataclan concert hall and other city sites in November.

And third, at 63 percent, came the Islamic State group’s various far-flung atrocities.

Commenting on the completed poll was 32-year-old J.P. Fury, working in a food truck in Times Square.

“At this point, I’m numb to all of it,” he said. “This is nothing new. Every week there’s a new shooting somewhere in America, and there’s a new terrorist attack somewhere around the world.”

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OTHER ISSUES

Domestically, 44 percent of those polled rate as extremely or very important the deaths of blacks in encounters with police that sparked “Black Lives Matter” protests in Baltimore and Chicago.

Another 44 percent rate the deal reached to curtail Iran’s nuclear program as important, and nearly as many (42 percent) Europe’s migrant crisis.

Only 40 percent said the presidential race was important to them, with the Paris climate change conference right behind (at 38 percent), followed by the Supreme Court’s legalization of gay marriage (36 percent) and the Cuban-U.S. thaw (30 percent).

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RINGING IN THE NEW YEAR

Most Americans plan to celebrate New Year’s Eve either at home (48 percent) or at the home of a friend or family member (20 percent). Nine percent plan to be at a bar, restaurant or organized event, while just under a quarter (22 percent) don’t plan to celebrate at all.

A majority of Americans (56 percent) will watch the New Year’s Eve events in Times Square, and 95 percent of those will see it on TV.

Those findings were similar to those of the past two years.

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THE YEAR IN POP CULTURE

No single pop culture event of 2015 stands out, with fewer than four in 10 Americans rating any as memorable.

The eagerly awaited “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” was memorable only to 37 percent of those polled, and forgettable to 34 percent.

Bill Cosby’s legal woes were memorable to 36 percent; forgettable to 33 percent.

Bruce Jenner becoming Caitlyn Jenner, with a highly orchestrated publicity campaign, was forgettable to 52 percent, and Taylor Swift’s world tour to 55 percent.

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METHODOLOGY

The AP-Times Square Alliance Poll of 1,020 adults was conducted online Dec. 11-13, 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 percentage points.

The poll is a cooperative effort between AP and the organizers of the Times Square New Year’s Eve Celebration, the Times Square Alliance and Countdown Entertainment. The Alliance is a nonprofit group that seeks to promote Times Square, and Countdown Entertainment represents the owners of One Times Square and the New Year’s Eve Ball Drop.

Respondents were first selected randomly using phone 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:

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


AP-GfK Poll: Support for legal abortion at highest level in 2 years

WASHINGTON (AP) — Support for legal abortion in the U.S. has edged up to its highest level in the past two years, with an Associated Press-GfK poll showing an apparent increase in support among Democrats and Republicans alike over the last year.

Nearly six in 10 Americans — 58 percent — now think abortion should be legal in most or all cases, up from 51 percent who said so at the beginning of the year, according to the AP-GfK survey. It was conducted after three people were killed last month in a shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado.

While support for legal abortion edged up to 40 percent among Republicans in this month’s poll, from 35 percent in January, the survey found that the GOP remains deeply divided on the issue: Seven in 10 conservative Republicans said they want abortion to be illegal in most or all cases; six in 10 moderate and liberal Republicans said the opposite.

 Count 55-year-old Victor Remdt, of Gurnee, Illinois, among the conservatives who think abortion should be illegal in most cases. He’s adopted, and says he “wouldn’t be here talking” if his birth mother had opted for abortion rather than adoption. Remdt, who’s looking for work as a commercial driver, said he’d like to see abortion laws become more restrictive but adds that he’s not a one-issue voter on the matter.
 John Burk, a conservative Republican from Houston, Texas, is among those whose position on abortion is somewhere in the middle. He reasons that banning the procedure would only lead to “back-alley abortions.” But he’s open to restrictions such as parental notification requirements and a ban on late-term abortions.

Burk, a 59-year-old computer programmer, said he tracks his beliefs on the issue to his libertarian leanings and the fact that he’s not religious. He doesn’t see the nation coming to a resolution on the divisive issue any time soon, saying hard-liners on both sides of the question are entrenched and “they’re never going to change.”

Among Democrats, 76 percent of poll respondents now think abortion should be legal all or most of the time, up slightly from 69 percent in January.

Independents are more evenly split, with 54 percent saying abortion should be legal all or most of the time, edging up from 43 percent in January.

For Larry Wiggins, who describes himself as a liberal Democrat from Henderson, North Carolina, legal access to abortion should be — but isn’t — a settled matter.

“A woman has the right to decide what she wants to do with her body,” he said flatly. “I don’t think the government has the right to interfere.”

Nefertiti Durant, a 45-year-old independent voter from Columbia, Maryland, sees abortion as more complex matter, calling it “kind of a Catch-22.” She thinks a woman should have the right to choose abortion but she’s “not so keen on the fact that just anybody can go and have an abortion.” She worries that young people may not understand the effects of the procedure, and the “deep issues” that go along with it.

Still, she said, abortion is legal and “let’s just leave it at that. … I don’t think it’s a matter of discussion.”

It undoubtedly will be up for discussion, though, in a presidential election year. All of the Republican presidential candidates say they favor restricting abortion rights. The Democratic candidates support broad abortion rights.

Interest in the issue picked up this year after anti-abortion activists began releasing undercover videos they said showed Planned Parenthood personnel negotiating the sale of fetal organs. Planned Parenthood said any payments were legally permitted reimbursements for the costs of donating organs to researchers, and it has since stopped accepting even that money. Republicans have sought to cut off federal funding for Planned Parenthood, and several GOP-governed states have tried to block Medicaid funding to the organization.

Overall, the poll found, 45 percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of Planned Parenthood, and 30 percent have an unfavorable opinion. A quarter said they don’t know enough about the organization to say.

The AP-GfK Poll of 1,007 adults was conducted online Dec. 3-7, 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 3.4 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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