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What They Told Us: Reviewing Last Week’s Key Polls - The Week Ending January 18, 2014

With Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn’s announcement this week that he will resign at the end of the current congressional session, 36 of the 100 U.S. Senate seats are now up for grabs in November’s midterm congressional elections. Twenty-one are held by Democrats, 15 by Republicans.

Democrats currently have 53-to-45 majority over Republicans in the Senate, so the GOP needs to hold all its seats and win six more to gain control of the chamber.

Rasmussen Reports jumped into the Senate races this week with a look at the prospective Michigan contest where Republican Terri Lynn Land and Democrat Gary Peters are running neck-and-neck. Longtime Democratic Senator Carl Levin is not seeking reelection.

Look for our numbers in more Senate races next week and in the weeks to come. We’ll be tracking governors’ races soon as well.

Obamacare will be front and center in most of the Senate races this year. Fifty-six percent (56%) of voters now view the health care law unfavorably, with 42% who have a Very Unfavorable opinion of it.

Democrats have widened their lead over Republicans to four points – 41% to 37% - on the latest Generic Congressional Ballot

Voters continue to express unhappiness with the current Congress. A new report says that for the first time more than half the members of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives are millionaires, but 70% think it is bad for the country that most members of Congress are this wealthy. However, 65% believe most elected officials get a lot wealthier while in office.

Congress is currently considering a proposal to extend long-term unemployment benefits, but a plurality (47%) of Americans thinks long-term unemployment benefits hurt the economy. Forty-six percent (46%) believe long-term benefits actually increase the number of people who are unemployed.

Fifty-one percent (51%) oppose a plan passed by the Senate and awaiting action in the House that would triple the level of legal immigration over the next 10 years

Speaking of elections, 77% of voters think it is at least somewhat likely that a woman will be elected president in the next 10 years.

Hillary Clinton and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie are seen by many political pundits as the 2016 Democratic and Republican presidential frontrunners respectively, but 48% say they would be less likely to vote for Christie if it is proven that his office retaliated against a local official who refused to support his reelection as governor. 

What does America think of the controversy that some are already dubbing "Bridgegate"? 

As for the current occupant of the White House, his daily job approval ratings have returned to levels seen for most of his presidency after dropping to record lows for several weeks after the disastrous rollout of the health care law. 

The president’s ratings are undoubtedly helped by the optimism Americans generally feel at the beginning of a new year. Consumer and investor confidence ended the week considerably higher that they were three months ago. 

Fifty-six percent (56%) are now confident in the stability of the U.S. banking industry. That’s the highest level of confidence since before the Wall Street meltdown in September 2008.

Still, only 39% of voters now give the president good or excellent marks for his handling of economic issues, while slightly more (41%) rate his performance in this area as poor.

Obama has declared income equality to be his number one issue this year, but 53% of voters consider economic growth to be more important than economic fairness. Thirty-eight percent (38%) rate economic fairness as the more important of the two.

Sixty-eight percent (68%) still consider the president at least somewhat liberal in political terms, including 44% who believe he is Very Liberal. 

Voters are evenly divided these days when asked if it’s better for the country if the best people take government jobs or if they go to work in the private sector instead. Democrats put more value on government work than other voters do.

Americans continue to believe that government workers earn more, work less and have more job security than those employed in the private sector.

In other surveys last week:

-- For the second week in a row, 29% of Likely U.S. Voters think the country is heading in the right direction. A year ago, 36% said the country was heading in the right direction.

-- Fifty-five percent (55%) still believe American society is fair and decent, but that’s the lowest level of confidence since August 2012.

-- Eighty-one percent (81%) of Americans view North Korea as an enemy of the United States, putting it again at the top of the list of 18 countries periodically tracked by Rasmussen Reports.

-- Americans continue to view Canada and Great Britain as the nation’s best friends. 

-- Forty-nine percent (49%) of Americans now have gone a full week without paying for anything with cash and coins. That’s up six points from 43% in April 2012.

-- The U.S. Mint reports it costs 2.41 cents to produce one penny, but support for getting rid of the one-cent coin is at an all-time low of 29%.

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