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What They Told Us: Reviewing Last Week’s Key Polls: Week of August 23

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Is America becoming an even more divided nation?

We ask voters last month if America is a more divided nation now than it was four years ago, and 67% said yes.

That was before racial tensions exploded following a police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri. Blacks and whites have sharply different views on what happened in Ferguson and what should happen next. Most black Americans (57%) are already convinced that the police officer who shot a black teenager should be found guilty of murder, a view shared by just 17% of whites and 24% of other minority adults.

While many blacks consider the police a threat, most other Americans think they are a blessing instead.

Most also reject the idea that most policemen are racist and think the media would be less interested in the incident in Ferguson if a white teenager had been shot by a black police officer. But then, only 20% consider the media Very Trustworthy anyway. 

Then there’s the division between voters and the federal government. Case in point: A growing majority of voters believes gaining control of the border is the most important immigration reform needed, but most think the federal government is still encouraging illegal immigration instead.

Local school districts around the country are discovering that the Obama administration has secretly moved some of the latest illegal immigrants into their areas. But most voters don’t think those illegals should be allowed to attend their schools.

Voters also still strongly favor laws requiring all voters to prove their identity before being allowed to vote and don’t believe such laws are discriminatory. But the U.S. Justice Department continues to challenge them in court on discrimination grounds, even though 64% of blacks support voter ID laws.

After billions in federal bailouts for the U.S. financial industry, just over half of Americans express confidence in the nation’s banks. It’s been that way since the Wall Street meltdown. Just before that, in July 2008, 68% were confident in the banks.

Just 38% of voters now think the U.S. economy is fair.

No wonder only 24% think the country is headed in the right direction. That number has seldom risen above 30% in over a year of weekly tracking.

Meanwhile, President Obama’s job approval rating continues to hover in the high negative teens, while views of Congress remain at record lows.

Even though most voters disagree with much of what the government is doing, they have so little confidence that Congress is listening that not many are planning to tell their legislators what they really think at town hall meetings this month.

Voters have suspected for years that neither major political party truly represents them, and Democrats and Republicans are tied on the latest Generic Congressional Ballot with just 39% support each. A year ago, they were tied at 38% each.  There are a lot of voters who don’t like either one.

But it’s a critical election year. Are things going to change? More importantly, is the balance of power going to change? Republicans need to pick up six new seats to take over the Senate, and West Virginia and Montana look like their likeliest gains.

GOP Senator Mike Enzi appears to be cruising to an easy reelection in Wyoming, while Democratic Senator Al Franken has an eight-point lead in Minnesota.

Check our latest video election update.

Most voters still don’t like the new national health care law, but an increasing number of Americans are buying insurance through the exchanges established under the law. That could pose a serious problem for Republican efforts to repeal or dramatically change Obamacare.

The housing market has been a rare bright spot in the economy in recent months. But homeowners are less confident this month than they’ve been in over a year that their home’s value will increase in the short-term. Confidence in their home's current value has fallen back as well.

Confidence that now is a good time to sell a house is also down from the more optimistic levels seen earlier this year.

Most homeowners, however, have not been late on a mortgage payment recently and don’t expect to be anytime soon. For those who are struggling to make their payments, most Americans still don’t think the government should help. 

At week’s end, 23% of consumers had a positive view of the economy, while 35% rated it as poor. Similarly, 27% of investors rated the economy as good or excellent, while 30% considered it poor.

In other surveys last week:

-- As tensions remain high with Russia and much of the Middle East, more voters than ever believe the United States is not putting enough money into national security.

-- Americans favor the use of international courts for crimes against humanity but have more confidence in a verdict reached by courts in this country. The Palestinians hope to have Israel tried for such crimes at the International Criminal Court, but Americans tend to think that's a bad idea.

-- The first numbers from the Connecticut governor’s race may come as a surprise.

-- Incumbent Republican Terry Branstad has widened his lead over Democratic challenger Jack Hatch in Iowa’s gubernatorial race.

-- Former U.S. Senator Mark Dayton has an eight-point advantage in his bid for a second term as governor of Minnesota.

-- Matt Mead turned back two challengers in this week’s Republican primary and looks well on his way to reelection as governor of Wyoming.

-- The shocking suicide of comedian-actor Robin Williams has highlighted the dangers of clinical depression, and Americans strongly agree more needs to be done to identify and treat it.

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