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: 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