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-GfK Poll: In a polarized nation, how Democrats, Republicans see themselves and each other

By JENNIFER AGIESTA, Associated Press

 WASHINGTON (AP) — Whether it’s the Republicans or the Democrats, America’s political parties are far from beloved. Yet most people continue to align with one or the other.

 Those who claim allegiance to the parties say they are driven by a mix of inertia, preference for one side’s policies over the other and feeling that one can depart from the party line when necessary, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll. Despite heated politics, few say they prefer one party out of dislike for the other.

 But affiliation doesn’t always equal admiration: One-quarter of Republicans and 13 percent of Democrats say they dislike their own party.

Asked what it means when a person says he or she is a Democrat or a Republican, few mention longtime affinity. More people focus on the beliefs or attitudes held by the most visible members of the party.

Around 6 in 10 Americans say they identify with one of the nation’s two major parties. That figure rises to nearly 8 in 10 when those who say they lean toward either party are included. Yet both Democrats and Republicans inspire unfavorable views by a majority of Americans, including one-quarter who say they dislike both of them.

About a third go so far as to say they distrust both parties to handle some of the most basic functions of government: 35 percent trust neither party to handle the federal budget, and 34 percent trust neither Democrats nor Republicans to manage the federal government or address the concerns of “people like me.”

For a sizable minority, that distrust extends to many issues central to the nation’s politics, including the economy, immigration, health care and America’s image overseas. Across all 11 issues asked about in the survey, more than 1 in 5 said they lack faith in either party to handle each issue well.

So why choose a party at all?

Two reasons are cited as strong factors by about 4 in 10 in each party: They generally like the party’s policies, and they have been Republicans or Democrats for as long as they can remember. About a third of Republicans and a quarter of Democrats say that despite their association with a party, they don’t completely agree with what the party stands for. A small share in each party say their affiliation stems from a dislike of the other side.

Thirty percent of Democrats say that liking the party’s candidates is a strong part of their Democratic identity; that slips slightly to 23 percent among Republicans.

The survey also assessed views of partisans from the outside looking in, asking what it means when someone describes himself or herself as a Republican, a Democrat or an independent.

As the nation’s two major parties have become increasingly polarized, perceptions of those who affiliate with them reflect that trend. To 22 percent of Americans, when people call themselves Republicans, it means they’re conservative, and 24 percent say that when people describe themselves as Democrats, it means they’re liberal. In 2003, a Pew Research Center survey asking the same question found that 17 percent associated Republicans with conservatism, and 16 percent connected Democrats and liberalism.

Beyond ideology, Americans react to self-professed Republicans by thinking they support the wealthy or businesses (21 percent), vote for Republican candidates or agree with the party’s issue positions (9 percent), or support a smaller government (7 percent). Views on Democrats are more varied, but 7 percent each say Democrats are for working people, support bigger government or more spending, or depend too heavily on government.

Few choose to describe either party using personal attacks; about 5 percent did when asked about Republicans and 9 percent did when asked about Democrats. But cross-party descriptions skew more negative and coalesce around certain traits. Nine percent of Democrats use terms including “closed-minded,” ”racist” or “self-centered” to describe Republicans, and 16 percent of Republicans choose words such as “dumb,” ”lazy” or “immoral” when asked about Democrats.

Highlighting the variation between parties, the poll even found differences in what Republicans and Democrats hear when someone tells them his or her party affiliation. Republicans seize on issues and ideology, while Democrats tend to focus on attitudes or attributes.

A Republican in the survey described the GOP by highlighting issues central to the party’s identity: “Small government, strong national defense, conservative social policies, more self-reliant people rather than people looking for Uncle Sam to support them financially.”

A typical Democrat, on the other hand, described her party’s approach to policy: “They have a social conscience and care about the underdog more than those in the upper socio-economic classes.”

The AP-GfK 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 and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points for all respondents.

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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Online:

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

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Follow Jennifer Agiesta on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/JennAgiesta


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