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What They Told Us: Reviewing Last Week’s Key Polls - Week Ending December 14, 2013

For voters, it seems, you can’t always get what you want.

Only 12% of Likely U.S. Voters favor a federal budget that increases government spending, but that’s just what the bipartisan budget deal passed by the House late this week does. It restores billions cut by the sequester on March 30 and puts off potential savings for several years.

Fifty-six percent (56%) want a long-term budget deal that cuts spending instead, but then only 29% expected Congress to reach such a deal to avoid another government shutdown. 

No wonder just seven percent (7%) think Congress is doing a good or excellent job. A plurality (47%) now believes their representative in Congress is not the best person for the job, and 43% don’t think he or she deserves reelection. Both are highs for the year.

Sixty-one percent (61%) of voters expect spending to go up under President Obama, the highest finding in three years, even though 53% think cuts in government spending are the best way to help the economy.

Just 19% agree with the president and many congressional Democrats that those who are already in this country illegally should be put on the path to citizenship before the borders are fully secured against future illegal immigration. But pressure is growing in Congress for that approach. Most voters already believe that the government’s practices and policies encourage illegal immigration, and 60% believe the feds are not aggressive enough in deporting those who are here illegally.

Negative opinions of the new health care law also continue to grow. Voters feel as strongly as ever that Americans should have choices when it comes to how much health insurance coverage they want and how much they want to pay for it. Belief that the government should require every health insurance plan to cover the exact same set of procedures has fallen to its lowest level ever.

The president, however, may be moving past the nightmare that has marked the rollout of Obamacare since October 1. After several weeks of the lowest job approval ratings of his entire presidency, those ratings improved slightly at week’s end to levels not seen since September.

Positive views of Obama’s economic leadership are also up a bit since hitting their lowest level in a year and a half earlier this month. Still, only 36% of voters give the president good or excellent marks for his handling of economic issues, while 46% rate his performance in this area as poor. 

Just 28% think the country is heading in the right direction, but that’s the highest level of confidence since late September.

Republicans still hold a five-point lead over Democrats – 43% to 38% - on the Generic Congressional Ballot.

One year after the elementary school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, only 31% of Americans think it is even somewhat likely that Congress and the president will create tougher gun control laws. Fifty-nine percent (59%) say stricter gun control is unlikely. This is almost a complete reversal from just after the school shootings when 59% expected tougher gun control laws and 33% disagreed.

But more Americans than ever (54%) believe tackling mental health issues is the best way to prevent future incidents like the one in Newtown.

While mental health issues and gun control have gotten much of the attention over the past year, there is also support for limiting access to violent video games and movies like those many recent mass killers have been watching.

Many voters are wondering if the president’s handshake with Cuban leader Raul Castro at this week's memorial service for Nelson Mandela signals a thaw in the relations between the two countries, but only 17% believe America’s relationship with Cuba will be better a year from now.

Many Americans are out shopping now with Christmas less than two weeks away, but consumer confidence at week’s end remained near its lowest levels of the year

Only 31% of Employed Americans now work 40 hours a week. Forty percent (40%) work more. Nearly one-out-of-four (23%) say they work more hours during the holiday season to earn extra money. 

Fifty-seven percent (57%) are in favor of raising the minimum wage from its current level of $7.25, but Americans are evenly divided over whether this will be good or bad for the economy.

In other surveys last week: 

-- Sixty-seven percent (67%) of Americans think Christmas should be more about Jesus Christ than about Santa Claus

-- Despite school policies to the contrary nationwide, 75% think Christmas should be celebrated in the public schools

-- Seventy-six percent (76%) are at least somewhat likely to make a charitable donation of some kind this year, including 57% who are Very Likely. This is the highest level of charitable giving measured in surveys since 2009. 

-- Time magazine this week named Pope Francis the person of the year. Sixty-one percent (61%) of Americans view the new pope favorably, and 56% think he has had a positive impact when it comes to the public’s impression of the Catholic Church. 

-- Arne Duncan is the president’s point man for the controversial Common Core national education standards being imposed on schools all over the country, but he remains largely unknown to voters after nearly five years of serving as the U.S. Secretary of Education. 

-- Americans remain very positive about the water they drink and the air they breathe, but 41% believe the overall environment in this country is getting worse

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