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What They Told Us: Reviewing Last Week’s Key Polls - Week Ending January 12

When it comes to politics, America is clearly two different nations without much middle ground.

Half of all likely voters now give President Obama positive marks for leadership, his highest ratings since the early months of his presidency. But take a closer look: Eighty-nine percent (89%) of Democrats and 53% of voters not affiliated with either of the major political parties give Obama good or excellent marks for leadership. Just 16% of Republicans agree.

Obama’s job approval ratings in the daily Presidential Tracking Poll are also running at the highest levels of his presidency. But on Friday, for example, while 86% of Democrats approved of the job the president is doing, 83% of GOP voters disapproved. Unaffiliated voters were evenly divided.

Thirty-three percent (33%) of all likely voters say the country is heading in the right direction. Fifty-eight percent (58%) think it’s heading down the wrong track. But, again, take a closer look: 54% of Democrats think the country is heading in the right direction. Eighty-nine percent (89%) of Republicans and 60% of unaffiliateds feel the country is on the wrong track.

The auto bailouts? Sixty-four percent (64%) of Democrats think they were good for the country. Fifty-nine percent (59%) of Republicans and 46% of unaffiliated voters disagree. When told that the government will still lose money on them, most Republicans and unaffiliated voters consider the bailouts a failure, compared to 56% of Democrats who still deem them a success.

Ford, the one automaker who didn't take a federal bailout, remains the most popular of Detroit’s Big Three. General Motors was the most popular before the bailouts. Yet while Democrats have a favorable opinion of all three automakers, Republicans and unaffiliated voters view Ford much more favorably than the others. 

The U.S. government will reach its current $16.4 trillion debt ceiling some time next month, and despite the current political posturing most voters think a deal to raise that ceiling is likely. But what kind of deal? Democrats tend to like one that raises the debt ceiling without any significant spending cuts. GOP and unaffiliated voters prefer a deal that includes a long-term plan to reduce the cost of entitlement programs including Social Security and Medicare.

But these same Republicans balk at significant cuts to the defense budget. GOP opposition to Obama’s nomination of former Senator Charles “Chuck” Hagel to be secretary of defense, for example, jumps from 46% to 62% when voters are told that he has called for defense budget cuts. Sixty-nine percent (59%) of Democrats and a modest plurality (43%) of unaffiliated voters then favor Hagel’s confirmation.

Gun control? Americans nationwide show overwhelming support for requiring strict background checks, waiting periods and safety courses for those wishing to obtain a gun. Americans also feel as strongly as ever that the average citizen has a constitutional right to own a gun. Fifty-eight percent (58%) of voters in the president’s party think the federal government should have the responsibility to make laws regarding gun ownership. A plurality (41%) of Republicans and 34% of unaffiliated voters feel those laws should be the responsibility of state governments.

 Energy development? Voters in general are more positive about the Obama’s pursuit of both renewable and traditional energy sources than they have been since the first year of his presidency. But take a closer look: Seventy percent (70%) of Democrats rate the president’s development of alternative energy sources as good or excellent, but just 18% of Republicans and 38% of unaffilliated agree. Seventy-five percent (75%) of voters in his party give Obama good or excellent marks for development of fossil fuel resources, a view shared by only 32% of unaffiliated voters. Sixty-six percent (66%) of GOP voters think the president is doing a poor job in this area.

The recent “fiscal cliff” deal raised taxes on wealthier Americans, but only 43% believe the economy is fair to the middle class. That overall number is little changed. However, before the deal, Democrats were more likely than Republicans to see the economy as unfair to the middle class. That is now reversed.

Still, following the last-minute deal to avoid the “fiscal cliff,” voters nationwide trust Democrats more than Republicans to handle the economy for the first time in over three-and-a-half years. Democrats are now trusted more on 10 out of 15 key issues regularly tracked by Rasmussen Reports. Republicans lead on two, and the parties are tied on three others. The GOP was ahead on most of the issues prior to Election Day.

Democrats now hold a six-point lead over Republicans on the Generic Congressional Ballot. This is the ninth week in a row that the Democrats have led on the ballot after the GOP held the advantage on it for the previous three-and-a-half years.

Even while many voters still agree with the attitudes of the Tea Party, views of that movement are at their lowest point ever. Only eight percent (8%) now say they are members of the Tea Party, down from a high of 24% in April 2010 just after passage of the national health care law. 

The Republican establishment’s response appears to be to declare war on its own voters, Scott Rasmussen explains in his latest weekly newspaper column. Citing a recent news report, he notes that party leaders in Washington are “gearing up a new effort to protect incumbents and limit the ability of Republican voters to successfully challenge establishment candidates. …

 “Mature party leaders would spend a lot more time listening to Republican voters rather than further insulating themselves from those voters,” Scott argues. “Unfortunately, by seeking to protect the insiders from the voters, all indications are that most establishment Republicans would rather blame the voters and keep their perks.”

In this weekend’s edition of What America Thinks, Scott and his guests will discuss public attitudes about the debt ceiling debate, Hagel’s nomination and the Tea Party. Scott also will be joined by former Naval Intelligence Officer Mike Barrett for a discussion of the government's handling of last year’s murder of the U.S. ambassador in Libya and U.S. involvement in overseas conflicts. The show airs on 61 television stations nationwide. Find a station near you, and check local listings for times.

As Congress and the president begin haggling over raising the national debt ceiling, a plurality (44%) of all voters says they are fiscally conservative, but nearly as many (40%) consider themselves moderate in this area. Just 13% say they are fiscally liberal.

The number of working Americans who now consider themselves middle class is at its highest level in nearly four years at 69%, while the number of working poor has fallen to an all-time low of eight percent (8%). 

At week’s end, 34% of consumers think the U.S. economy is getting better, but 42% say it's getting worse. Among investors, 37% believe economic conditions in the country are improving. Forty-two percent (42%) disagree and feel they are getting worse. 

Eighty-six percent (86%) of all Americans say they are paying more for groceries than they were a year ago, and 72% expect that to go up even more over the next year. Most Americans lack confidence that the Federal Reserve Board can keep inflation under control.

The Rasmussen Challenge is returning. Stay tuned.

In other surveys last week:

-- Ten percent (10%) of voters have a favorable opinion of Jack Lew, the president’s nominee for secretary of the Treasury. Fourteen percent (14%) share an unfavorable view of Lew, but 75% don’t know enough about him to voice any kind of opinion.

-- Voters are much more critical now of the federal government’s response to the East Coast’s Hurricane Sandy but are generally satisfied with the amount of federal money going to the victims of the storm. Now, though, a plurality thinks state governments should bear most of the cleanup costs from a bad weather event.

-- Just 10% of voters correctly recognize that the United States spends on average about $9,000 per pupil each year in elementary and high schools. But voters are narrowly divided when asked if spending more on schools will improve student performance 

-- Looks like Americans aren’t in any more of a new car mood than they were last year. Only 28% think they are at least somewhat likely to buy or lease a car in the next year, with 11% who are Very Likely to do so.

-- Confidence in the banking industry has rebounded slightly and is back to levels seen last fall. Fifty-two percent (52%) of Americans are now at least somewhat confident in the stability of the U.S. banking industry, including nine percent (9%) who are Very Confident.

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Wall Street Journal profile called Scott Rasmussen "America's Insurgent Pollster." The Washington Post described him as "a driving force in American politics."  If you'd like Scott to speak at your conference or event, contact Premiere Speakers Bureau.

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