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: Disapproval, doubt dominate on Ebola

By LAURAN NEERGAARD and EMILY SWANSON

WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans have at least some confidence that the U.S. health care system will prevent Ebola from spreading in this country but generally disapprove of the way President Barack Obama and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have handled the crisis so far.

Most disapprove of Obama’s handling of the Ebola outbreak, according to an Associated Press-GfK Poll. Just 1 in 5 approve of the CDC’s work on Ebola so far, and only 3 in 10 say they trust that public health officials are sharing complete and accurate information about the virus. And only 18 percent have deep confidence that local hospitals could safely treat a patient with Ebola.

Amid worry here, most Americans say the U.S. also should be doing more to stop Ebola in West Africa. Health authorities have been clear: Until that epidemic ends, travelers could unknowingly carry the virus anywhere.

“It seems to me we have a crisis of two things. We have a crisis of science, and either people don’t understand it or … they don’t believe it,” said Dr. Joseph McCormick, an Ebola expert at the University of Texas School of Public Health. And, “we have a crisis in confidence in government.”

Some findings from the AP-GfK poll:

HEALTH CARE GETS MIXED REVIEWS

Nearly a quarter of Americans are very confident the U.S. health care system could prevent Ebola from spreading widely, and 40 percent are moderately confident.

But nearly half don’t think their local hospital could safely treat an Ebola case, and 31 percent are only moderately confident that it could.

After all, Thomas Eric Duncan, the first Ebola patient diagnosed in the U.S., at first was mistakenly sent home by a Dallas emergency room, only to return far sicker a few days later. Then, two nurses caring for him somehow became infected. The family of one of the nurses, Amber Vinson, said Wednesday doctors no longer could detect Ebola in her as of Tuesday evening.

Asked how the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention handled those cases, 42 percent of people disapprove and 22 percent approve.

FEAR VS. KNOWLEDGE

Despite months of headlines about Ebola, nearly a quarter of Americans acknowledge they don’t really understand how it spreads. Another 36 percent say they understand it only moderately well.

Ebola doesn’t spread through the air or by casual contact, and patients aren’t contagious until symptoms begin. Ebola spreads through close contact with a symptomatic person’s bodily fluids, such as blood, vomit, feces, urine, saliva, semen or sweat.

People who say they do understand are less concerned about Ebola spreading widely in this country. Among those who feel they have a good grasp on how it spreads, 46 percent are deeply concerned; that rises to 58 percent among those who don’t understand it as well.

Likewise, a third of those with more knowledge of Ebola are confident in the health system’s ability to stem an outbreak, and 27 percent think their local hospital could safely treat it. Among those who don’t understand Ebola, fewer than 1 in 5 shares either confidence.

WHAT SHOULD BE DONE

A whopping 93 percent of people think training of doctors and nurses at local hospitals is necessary to deal with Ebola, with nearly all of them, 78 percent, deeming it a definite need.

Nine out of 10 also think it’s necessary to tighten screening of people entering the U.S. from the outbreak zone, including 69 percent who say that’s definitely needed.

Some would go even further: Almost half say it’s definitely necessary to prevent everyone traveling from places affected by Ebola from entering the U.S. Another 29 percent say it’s probably necessary to do so.

More than 8 in 10 favor sending medical aid to Ebola-stricken countries and increasing government funding to develop vaccines and treatments.

SOME NEW STEPS

The CDC had issued safe-care guidelines to hospitals long before Duncan arrived last month, and it made some changes this week after the unexpected nurse infections. Now, the CDC says hospitals should use full-body garb and hoods and follow rigorous rules in removing the equipment to avoid contamination, with a site manager supervising. Possibly more important, workers should repeatedly practice the donning and doffing and prove they can do it correctly before being allowed near any future patients.

While Duncan wasn’t contagious during his flight, his arrival spurred U.S. officials to begin checking passengers arriving from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea for fever, an early Ebola symptom, just like they’re checked before leaving those countries.

Wednesday, the CDC moved to fill a gap in that screening: Starting next week, all of those travelers must be monitored for symptoms for 21 days, the Ebola incubation period. They’ll be told to take their temperature twice a day and must report the readings to state or local health officials.

That’s not just for West African visitors. It includes U.S. government employees, who had been doing their own 21-day fever watches upon return from fighting the epidemic, as well as doctors and other workers for aid organizations and journalists.

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted Oct. 16-20, using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,608 adults and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points for all respondents. 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 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


AP-GfK Poll: Americans want tighter Ebola screening, concerned government hasn’t done enough

By LAURAN NEERGAARD and EMILY SWANSON, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans overwhelmingly want tougher screening for Ebola, according to a poll released as federal health authorities took new steps to do just that.

Many are worried about Ebola spreading here, and two-thirds say the government hasn’t done enough to prevent that from happening, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll.

Some things to know:

THE PUBLIC WANTS MORE TRAVEL SCRUTINY

The AP-GfK poll found 9 out of 10 people — unusually high agreement on any issue — think it’s necessary to tighten screening procedures for people entering the U.S. from the outbreak zone in West Africa, including 69 percent who say it’s definitely needed.

Some would go even further: Almost half say it’s definitely necessary to prevent everyone traveling from places affected by Ebola from entering the U.S. Another 29 percent say it’s probably necessary to do so.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned since summer that an infected traveler eventually would arrive in the U.S., and it finally happened last month when Thomas Eric Duncan developed symptoms of Ebola a few days after arriving from Liberia. He died on Oct. 8.

WHAT IS THE GOVERNMENT DOING

While Duncan wasn’t contagious during his flight, his arrival spurred U.S. officials to begin checking passengers arriving from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea for a fever, an early Ebola symptom, just like they’re checked before leaving those countries.

The AP-GfK poll suggested that wasn’t enough.

Wednesday, the CDC moved to fill a gap in that screening: Starting next week, all of those travelers must be monitored for symptoms for 21 days, the Ebola incubation period. They’ll be told to take their temperature twice a day and must report the readings to state or local health officials.

That’s not just for West African visitors. It includes U.S. government employees, who had been doing their own 21-day fever watches upon return from fighting the epidemic, as well as doctors and other workers for aid organizations, and journalists.

WHY NOT A TRAVEL BAN

The Obama administration says that’s not on the table. Already, there are no direct flights to the U.S. from the outbreak zone, and the airport with the most travelers from West Africa — New York’s Kennedy airport — has averaged 34 travelers a day since entry screening began. Health experts say a travel ban would prevent medical supplies and health workers from reaching West Africa, and could drive travelers underground and hinder screening of potential Ebola carriers.

AMERICANS FEAR EBOLA’S SPREAD HERE

Nearly half of Americans are very or extremely concerned that Ebola will spread widely in the U.S. After all, two nurses caught it while caring for Duncan.

Health experts had hoped that fear would start to dwindle, considering that people who shared an apartment with Duncan while he was sick emerged healthy from quarantine this week — showing the virus isn’t all that easy to catch.

FEAR VS. KNOWLEDGE

But despite months of headlines about Ebola, nearly a quarter of Americans acknowledge they don’t really understand how Ebola spreads. Another 36 percent say they understand it only moderately well.

People who say they do are less concerned about Ebola spreading widely in this country. Among those who feel they have a good grasp on how it spreads, 46 percent are deeply concerned; that rises to 58 percent among those who don’t understand it as well.

Ebola doesn’t spread through the air or by casual contact, and patients aren’t contagious until symptoms begin. Ebola spreads through close contact with a symptomatic person’s bodily fluids, such as blood, vomit, feces, urine, saliva, semen or sweat.

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted Oct. 16-20, using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,608 adults, and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points for all respondents. 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 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