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: Can Supreme Court be fair in health law case?

WASHINGTON (AP) — Many people in the United States doubt that the Supreme Court can rule fairly in the latest litigation jeopardizing President Barack Obama’s health care law.

The Associated Press-GfK poll finds only 1 person in 10 is highly confident that the justices will rely on objective interpretations of the law rather than their personal opinions. Nearly half, 48 percent, are not confident of the court’s impartiality.

“That lawsuit should have never made it this far,” said Hal Lewis, a retiree from Scranton, Pennsylvania.

“If they rule for the people who are bringing the suit, it could be close to the destruction of Obamacare in this country,” added Lewis, who once edited a local newspaper in his city.

Lewis is one of the relatively few people — 13 percent — who say they are closely following the case, called King v. Burwell.

Opponents of the law argue that as literally written, the law only allows the federal government to subsidize premiums in states that have set up their own insurance markets, also known as exchanges. Most states have not done so, relying instead on the federal HealthCare.gov website.

The Obama administration says opponents are misreading the Affordable Care Act by focusing on just a few words. When the legislation is read in context, it’s clear that lawmakers wanted to help uninsured people in every state, the administration maintains.

If the court sides with the plaintiffs, it’s estimated that 8 million to 9 million people across more than 30 states could lose coverage. They would be unable to afford their premiums without the subsidies, which are keyed to household income. A decision is expected late in June.

In a twist, the poll found that opponents of the law, who tend to be politically conservative, have less confidence in the objectivity of a court with a conservative majority. Among foes, 60 percent are not confident, compared with 44 percent of the law’s supporters.

“That is incredibly powerful that a court associated with conservative views is not well trusted by Republicans,” said Robert Blendon, who tracks public opinion on health care at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Blendon said the law’s opponents may be remembering the court’s 2012 ruling in which Chief Justice John Roberts cast the key vote to uphold the law.

Regardless of how the public feels about the court’s internal deliberations, a majority wants the justices to allow subsidies to continue flowing in all 50 states, an opinion in line with the administration’s position.

Fifty-six percent said the court should keep the subsidies without restriction, while 39 percent said the financial aid should be limited to residents of states that set up their own health insurance markets.

It’s less clear what people would want Congress to do if the court were to side with the law’s opponents. A ruling for the plaintiffs would invalidate health insurance subsidies in states without their own exchanges. Many of those states have Republican governors and legislatures that have resisted the health care law.

The poll found that a bare majority, 51 percent, wants Congress to amend the law to make it clear that people are entitled to help regardless of what their state leaders do.

But 44 percent prefer that Congress leave the law as is and let states decide whether they want to create insurance exchanges that would allow their residents to receive subsidies.

“It suggests there’s a political opening for Republicans to offer a way for people to continue receiving subsidies through some sort of state arrangement,” Blendon said.

State leaders would have to move fast. Some legal experts say it would be only weeks before the subsidies dry up; others say it’s possible the administration could continue payments through the end of this year.

Ethan Levesque of Augusta, Maine, said he is troubled by the federal law’s requirement that virtually all U.S. residents get health insurance or risk fines from the IRS.

“I feel like it should actually be the determination of the states to decide health coverage,” said Levesque, a customer service representative for a telecommunications company.

“There is definitely nothing wrong with health care whatsoever, but it’s the way that this has been presented to people that I have problems with,” he said.

The poll found sharp splits on whether Congress should intervene.

Two-thirds of Democrats think Congress should amend the law to save the subsidies, but only 31 percent of Republicans shared that view. Half of independents want Congress to update the law if necessary, while 41 percent think it should be kept as is.

Leading congressional Republicans have said they would step in to prevent health insurance markets from unraveling, but they have not spelled out details.

It’s estimated that 15 million to 17 million adults have gained coverage since the fall of 2013, when the law’s big insurance expansion began. But the nation is divided over Obama’s major domestic policy achievement.

The poll found 27 percent of Americans support the law, while 38 percent oppose it and 34 percent say they neither support nor oppose it.

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The AP-GfK Poll of 1,077 adults was conducted online April 23-27, 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.

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Online:

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


AP-GfK Poll: Immigration not a deal breaker for Republicans

By EMILY SWANSON  Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans are split down the middle on whether they would prefer to vote for a candidate who wants to keep or undo President Barack Obama’s executive action to let some immigrants living in the U.S. illegally stay in the country, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll.

But even Republicans don’t necessarily see a candidate’s support for that action as a deal breaker for their votes.

The poll was conducted before former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Tuesday that she supports a path to citizenship and that, if elected president, she would expand the protections for immigrants laid out in Obama’s executive action.

Five things to know about public opinion on immigration:

HALF SUPPORT PATH TO CITIZENSHIP, LEGAL STATUS

Most Americans – 53 percent – say they favor providing a way for immigrants who are already in the United States illegally to become U.S. citizens, while 44 percent are opposed.

And although Clinton drew a stark line Tuesday between support for citizenship and support for legal status to stay, the poll shows that distinction makes little difference in people’s support for a change in immigration policy.

Among Americans asked if they favor a way for those already in the United States to stay legally, 50 percent were in favor and 48 percent opposed – not a significant difference from support for a path to citizenship.

DIVISION OVER OBAMA EXECUTIVE ACTION

Forty-nine percent say they’re more likely to support someone who wants to keep Obama’s immigration action in place, while 47 percent would rather vote for someone who wants to undo it, the AP-GfK poll shows.

That’s true even though most Americans support the policies that make up the executive action. Fifty-nine percent favor providing a way for immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children to stay legally, and 57 percent support allowing those who are in the country but whose children are U.S. citizens or permanent residents to stay.

Americans on both sides of the executive action issue are just as likely to say that they could imagine voting for a candidate who disagrees with them as say they could not.

NOT A DEAL BREAKER FOR REPUBLICANS

Even among Republicans, many say they could see themselves voting for a candidate who wants to keep Obama’s action in place.

Three-quarters of Republicans say they would prefer to vote for a candidate who would undo it, but a combined 55 percent would either prefer to support a candidate who would keep it in place or could imagine themselves voting for such a candidate.

Even among conservative Republicans, nearly half – 47 percent – could at least imagine voting for a candidate who would keep the action in place.

Significant minorities of Republicans – about 4 in 10 – support allowing immigrants brought to the United States as children, along with parents of citizens or permanent residents, to stay legally.

LINE IN THE SAND FOR HISPANICS

Three-quarters of Hispanics in the poll say that they would prefer to support a candidate who would keep Obama’s executive action in place, and a majority – 53 percent of Hispanics overall – say they definitely could not support a candidate who wants to undo it.

Eight in 10 Hispanics in the poll favor allowing those brought to the country as children, and those who are parents of citizens or permanent residents, to stay legally.

Hispanics are more likely to trust Democrats than Republicans on handling immigration, 36 percent to 21 percent. But nearly a third don’t trust either party on the issue.

Among all Americans, 30 percent trust Democrats more and 26 percent trust Republicans more, while29 percent trust neither party and 15 percent trust both equally.

MOST DISAPPROVE OF OBAMA’S HANDLING OF IMMIGRATION

Americans are more likely to disapprove than approve of how the president is handling immigration, 57 percent to 42 percent. That’s unchanged since the last AP-GfK poll early in February.

Fifty-seven percent of Americans call immigration a very or extremely important issue to them personally, up slightly since 52 percent in February.

Among Hispanics, 6 in 10 approve of how Obama is handling immigration. In October, before he announced the immigration action, only 3 in 10 did.

The AP-GfK Poll of 1,077 adults was conducted online April 23-27, 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. Some questions were asked of a half sample and have a higher margin of error.

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.

Online:

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

Follow Emily Swanson on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/EL-Swan