updated 3/30/2011 4:19:19 PM ET 2011-03-30T20:19:19

For all the talk of recovery, Americans are growing increasingly pessimistic about the economy as soaring gas costs strain already-tight budgets. So far, people aren't taking it out on President Barack Obama, a new Associated Press-GfK poll shows.

  1. Other political news of note
    1. Animated Boehner: 'There's nothing complex about the Keystone Pipeline!'

      House Speaker John Boehner became animated Tuesday over the proposed Keystone Pipeline, castigating the Obama administration for not having approved the project yet.

    2. Budget deficits shrinking but set to grow after 2015
    3. Senate readies another volley on unemployment aid
    4. Obama faces Syria standstill
    5. Fluke files to run in California

Even so, the survey highlights a central challenge Obama will face in his campaign for re-election. The president will have to convince a lot of voters who are still feeling financial hardship that things are getting better.

Obama's approval ratings have held steady at around 50 percent over the past month. But the disconnect between negative perceptions of the economy and signs that a rebound are under way could provide an opening for Republicans at the outset of the 2012 campaign.

First Read: 2012 GOP race off to slow start

In the survey, just a sliver of Americans — 15 percent — said they believed the economy had improved over the past month, compared with 30 percent who had thought that in January. Only a third were optimistic of better times ahead for the country, down from about half earlier this year. And 28 percent thought the economy would get worse, the largest of slice of people who have expressed that sentiment since the question was first asked in December 2009.

"It's in a poor state," said Billy Shirley, 74, a Democrat from Commerce, Georgia. "Everything's going to the bad. Everyone's spending more on gas, food, everything. The prices on everything are going up, and that's hurting the nation."

Story: Dems hint at flexibility in budget talks

A more positive picture
Recent economic indicators paint a more positive picture: The unemployment rate, though still high at 8.9 percent, has been declining, and consumer spending and personal income were both up last month. The gross domestic product was growing at an annual rate of 3.1 percent as last year ended.

Americans are acutely focused on their financial well-being, even as turmoil in the Middle East commands international attention. And the foreign unrest is directly affecting them by boosting oil prices. More Americans — 77 percent, up from 54 percent last fall — now say gas prices are highly important to them.

Obama's job-performance ratings haven't suffered as people's attitudes about the economy have shifted over the past month.

Story: House, Senate No. 2s battle over federal budget

Half still approve of how he is doing his job, and half say he deserves to be re-elected. His rating on handling the economy was unchanged: 47 percent approved. In fact, twice as many people said Obama "understands the important issues the country will need to focus on during the next two years" as said that about Republicans in Congress.

That's not to say that Obama is escaping responsibility for the economic situation.

Annale Iltis, 26, of Sarasota, Florida, faults big business, the federal government and, to a lesser extent, the president.

"I do a bit," she said, "but at the same time he has good ideas. He just doesn't have the backers in the House and the Senate to get them done." The self-described independent voter, who supported Obama in 2008 and says she would do so next year, is concerned that deep budget cuts that Congress is considering will hurt the fragile economic recovery.

House plans symbolic budget vote as pressure on Senate mounts

"It seems stable now but I fear it's going to go downhill quickly," she said.

Henry Kugeler, 49, of Chicago, likened the situation to the fable about the crawling tortoise that wins the race against the speedy hare, saying: "Right now, the country is the tortoise. I don't think the economy is getting worse. The recovery that's happening is real, but it's incredibly slow."

The Democrat does not blame Obama or other politicians, saying: "They haven't helped but I don't know that they've hurt."

Obama inherited an economy in recession.

Republicans angling for the chance to challenge him next fall have been blaming him for the slow recovery and arguing they could do better. Presidential advisers are hopeful that the positive economic trends continue, giving Obama an opportunity to make the case for keeping him in office rather than risk an economic backslide.

Congressional pay during a shutdown? Still looks likely

'12 GOP candidates have their work cut out
As the slow-to-start GOP nomination fight starts in earnest this spring, the poll shows that candidates clearly have work to do.

More than or nearly half of Republicans surveyed say they don't know enough about the following potential contenders to even express an opinion about them: Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum and Minnesota Rep. Michele Bachmann.

Roughly two-thirds of Republicans expressed favorable views of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, while former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney got slightly lower marks.

Even though many of the candidates aren't well-known, about half of Republicans say they are satisfied with their choices.

The poll comes just as Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill wrestle over the federal budget, and there could be a partial government shutdown without further action by Congress.

Concerns over mounting federal debt
The Republican-controlled House has approved some $60 billion in spending cuts. The Democratic Senate is looking at $33 billion. Without agreement, some Republicans say they will not approve funding to keep the government operating.

The issue of federal spending isn't just something lawmakers talk about. It is clearly weighing on the public.

Story: Obama talks energy policy as gas prices climb

Roughly half in the survey said they expected enormous federal budget deficits to cause a major economic crisis for the country for the next decade, and most said they worry that mounting federal debt will hamper the financial future of their children and grandchildren.

In the shorter term, people in the poll view everyone negatively when it comes to handling the deficit, but lawmakers get worse marks than the president. Only about a third of those surveyed approve of how Republicans and Democrats are dealing with the issue, while 41 percent approve of Obama on the matter.

People also are evenly divided on which party would best handle the deficit.

The Associated Press-GfK Poll was conducted March 24-28 by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cell phone interviews with 1,001 adults nationwide and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Government shutdown still looms

  1. Closed captioning of: Government shutdown still looms

    >>> with less than two weeks to get a budget deal, democrats are hammering out an offer to put $20 billion in additional cuts on the table, but time is short. republican leaders are facing pressure from the right flank of their party. without a deal, the lights go out, so to speak, a week from friday. former texas congressman was chair of the democratic caucus as well as democratic congressional campaign committee and former virginia congressman of the national republican congressional committee . and both witnessed the 1995 shut down firsthand approximately fellas, are we on on it again? tom, you said you were kshd about it.

    >> i am. if you remember the tea party and the republicans aren't married yet. they're still dating. this is going to be difficult within the caucus. at one what point do you compromise without kaifring. this is going to be a difficult time.

    >> because we really boils down to, i suppose, what kind of compromise speaker boehner is willing to take. he had his house republicans pass $60 billion in cuts. we know the figure is going to be somewhat lower. the final deal.

    >> right.

    >> is it a matter of how many voters he lose?

    >> the players, here, too, are the immedia media. rush limbaugh , it shapes a lot of opinion, they light up on this kind of thing. third-party players in this that we don't talk about.

    >> i'm not sure i agree with tom completely on this. i think that the maximum leverage that his party, the republicans , have is when the debt ceiling vote occurs in april or early may. and i think this thing gets slipped until the debt ceiling. i think they paper this over. we don't have a government shutdown on april 8th . i'm not sure exactly how they do it.

    >> another series of temporary budgets?

    >> i think you take it to what everybody agrees is the debt ceiling date when that has to be voted on. that's when they've got real leverage. it will be interesting. now, i think if the president is fortunate and if gadhafi is kicked out of libya in the next week or so that lessens the republicans ' leverage right now because he will be stronger.

    >> just in a political sense stronger?

    >> really want to take on a strong president right now. this is interesting to see how this plays out. i'm still betting that they paper this over on april 8th and they get to the debt ceiling.

    >> before i get to you, if they continue to paper it over, as you say, aren't republicans function aally winning because every temporary bill has included cuts pro rated at the level that republicans stopped cuts.

    >> winning some but not as much as the taet party wants.

    >> take this up to the debt ceiling the republicans win because at that point they have to have it. their leverage is maximized. government is dysfunctional right now. without a budget for the year the innovation, those kinds of things are not happening. i think a lot of leaders want to get this thing resolved in the next two weeks.

    >> is it really a possibility that the government could shut down? seems to me that although me in the media like to danging it out there that both parties have essentially looked at this circumstance and said, this is mutually assured destruction, or we just can't be sure?

    >> the leaders of both parties understand that. the question is whether boehner can deliver the tea party people. i leave that to tom in terms of whether he can deliver enough of them but i don't think the leaders and in particular the leaders in the senate on the democratic side don't want a government shutdown . the president doesn't want it, i don't think boehner does.

    >> i don't think the leaders want it. remember, if the government shuts down and you can blame it on the other party, they're getting the blame --

    >> the question is who gets the blame now.

    >> that helps your leverage then.

    >> the question is who gets the blame.

    >> right.

    >> i'm not sure that the democrats get the blame if the republicans force a government shutdown on april 8th . i think they know that.

    >> they don't force it. it's a question of, you send a bill to the president and there's not enough money and he shuts it down because you're not getting enough money.

    >> the question is whether it gets to the president.

    >> right here is the evidence of why republicans and democrats can't agree.

    >> if tom and i were still there, we could work it out.

    >> final point, let's turn to libya . i'm going to test a theory here. do you think that the president consulted sufficiently with congress? my theory is that this is a bipartisan gripe among members of congress who thinks as co-equal branch that weren't efficiently consulted. if you asked democrats and republicans you would tend to get the same oons.

    >> first of all, i don't think the president needs to be a law professor when he goes on tv tonight. i don't think he needs to talk about the constitution and talk about the war powers . i think there was a degree of consultation. you can argue it either way. this was -- you got down to a situation where we had to act or whether were going to be a lot of people killed in libya .

    >> bipartisan diss. he had to move quickly. let me say this, over the next 16 months the president now owns the results in libya .

    >> all right.

    >> may be good.

    >> maybe, maybe not.

    >> tom davis and martin, i don't even need to be here. you've got it down.


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments