Poll: Economy benefiting Obama
WASHINGTON – President Barack Obama is reaping political benefits from the country’s brighter economic mood. A new poll shows that Republicans and Democrats alike are increasingly saying the nation is heading in the right direction and most independents now approve of the way he’s addressing the nation’s post-recession period.
But trouble could be ahead: Still-struggling Americans are fretting over rising gasoline prices. Just weeks before the travel season begins, the Associated Press-GfK survey finds pump prices rising in importance and most people unhappy with how the Democratic president has handled the issue.
It’s seemingly no coincidence that Obama this week is promoting the expansion of domestic oil and gas exploration and the development of new forms of energy.
It’s his latest attempt to show that he, more than any of the Republican presidential contenders, knows that voters’ pocketbooks remain pinched even as the economy improves overall. And on that question of empathy, solid majorities continue to view him as someone who “understands the problems of ordinary Americans” and “cares about people like you,” the AP-GfK survey found.
There is evidence that the nation is becoming markedly more optimistic and Obama benefits from that.
Thirty percent in the poll describe the economy as “good,” a 15-point increase since December and the highest level since the AP-GfK poll first asked the question in 2009. Roughly the same share say the economy got better in the past month, while 18 percent said it got worse, the most positive read in over a year.
Looking ahead, four in 10 said they expect the economy to get better in the next year and a third said they think the number of unemployed people in the U.S. will decrease, the highest share on either question since last spring. A quarter of those surveyed said they expect the economy to get worse over the next 12 months, while 31 percent said it would stay the same, the poll found.
As optimism has risen, Obama has received a corresponding bump in his approval rating for handling the economy. Forty-eight percent now say they approve of how he’s handling it, up 9 points from December.
Still, for some it’s hard to sense an improvement – or give Obama credit for it – when any extra money is being gobbled up at the gasoline pump.
“I give him credit for trying to make improvements, but I don’t believe it’s had that much effect,” said Michael Lee Real of Indianola, Iowa, a city water authority worker who describes himself as a Republican-leaning independent. The cost of gasoline is “one of the big things,” said Real, 58. “It fluctuates so much, it makes it hard for me to budget my money.”
Presidents don’t have a great deal of control over oil or gas prices, which now are being influenced by higher U.S. demand and tensions with Iran. But few factors generate as much interest and anxiety among Americans. The rise in prices could undercut Obama’s argument that he’s strengthening the economy and making families more financially secure.
Republicans, locked in battle for the right to face Obama in the general election, expect gas prices to be a top issue by the time Americans set out on their summer vacations. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich is dangling the prospect of $2.50-a-gallon gas if he’s elected; former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum is warning of $5-a-gallon gas if he’s not.
Half of all adults now say Obama deserves to be re-elected, a 7-point rise from December that reverses a downward trend that had been in place since May.
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