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What They Told Us: Reviewing Last Week’s Key Polls - Week Ending January 11, 2014

The U.S. economy’s still not a pretty picture, but Americans seem to be going with the flow. The government at week’s end reported the weakest job growth in years in December. The unemployment rate fell, but that was largely due to Americans leaving the work force.

Seventy-two percent (72%) say they know someone who is out of work and looking for a job, the highest finding in a year. Forty-one percent (41%) know someone who, out of frustration with the difficult job market, has given up the search for work.

Twenty-seven percent (27%) think unemployment will be lower in a year's time, but just as many (27%) think it will be higher by then.

Still, the Rasmussen Employment Index which measures worker confidence rose four points in December to its highest level since June. Slightly more workers continue to say their companies are hiring rather than laying off.

Forty-six percent (46%) of American favor a proposal now before Congress that would continue combined state and federal unemployment benefits for up to 73 weeks for those unable to find a job. Thirty-nine percent (39%) oppose this proposal now being pushed by Senate Democrats and President Obama.

Fifteen percent (15%) favor extending unemployment benefits indefinitely, but more than twice as many (34%) say the federal government should do nothing at all for the long-term unemployed.

Forty-seven percent (47%) of voters continue to feel the president is too hostile toward small business, consistent with regular findings for the past year. Twenty-nine percent (29%) think he is too hostile toward big business.

Case in point: Secretary of State John Kerry is reportedly pushing hard for a new international global warming treaty, prompting speculation that this will further delay a government decision on the Keystone XL oil pipeline from western Canada to Texas. Fifty-seven percent (57%) of voters favor building the Keystone pipeline, and 56% think it will be good for the economy. These views have changed little in over two years.

Consumer and investor confidence remain higher that they were from 2008 to 2012. At the same time, only 29% of voters think the country is headed in the right direction.

Just eight percent (8%) of voters think Congress is doing a good or excellent job. Sixty-nine percent (69%) say no matter how bad things are, Congress can always find a way to make them worse, the highest level of cynicism in surveys for over three years.

Democrats have taken the lead over Republicans – 40% to 38% - on the Generic Congressional Ballot for the first time since late November.

If Democrats win control of Congress in this November’s elections, most voters (55%) believe there will be a noticeable change in the lives of most Americans. Slightly fewer voters (49%) think there will be a noticeable change in the lives of most Americans if Republicans win control of Congress.

One prominent Republican who reportedly has his eye on winning the White House ran into heavy traffic this past week. Fifty-four percent (54%) of Likely New Jersey Voters believe it’s likely Governor Chris Christie was aware that traffic lanes onto the George Washington Bridge were being closed as retaliation for the mayor of Fort Lee’s refusal to support the governor’s reelection. Fifty-six percent (56%) believe Christie should resign if it is proven that he approved of the retaliation. The lane closures caused four days of major traffic jams heading into New York City, and the incident has become a major national political story because of Christie’s potential presidential candidacy.

Al Qaeda-led terrorists have been making major gains in Iraq in recent days, recapturing places that U.S. troops liberated during the war there, but just 25% of voters favor U.S. military action against Iraq or Syria if either of those countries is taken over by al Qaeda or related terrorists.

Thirty-nine percent (39%) think the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have increased the threat of radical Islamic terrorism within the United States.

The president is counting on upcoming negotiations to bring the Syrian civil war to a peaceful conclusion despite increasing al Qaeda involvement there. Obama’s daily job approval ratings have returned to levels seen for much of his presidency after falling to unprecedented lows in the weeks following the disastrous rollout of the new health care law.

Voters continue to give their own health care high marks but remain critical of the overall health care system in this country. For the first time in nearly a year, however, fewer than 50% expect the health care system to get worse under Obamacare.

Coming off his reelection, Obama signaled that immigration reform and stricter gun control were two of his top agenda items, but none of his initiatives in these areas made it into law. Voters remain critical of the president's handling of both issues.

In other surveys last week:

-- Most voters favor legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes but are a lot less enthusiastic about open recreational use.

-- While most voters identify themselves as pro-choice, support for a mandatory waiting period prior to an abortion is at its highest level in over two years at 49%.

-- The United States fought two major wars in the 20th Century and engaged in a lengthy Cold War for several decades. But most Americans now view U.S. relations with two of those former enemies, Germany and Japan, very positively, while they remain skeptical of Vietnam, Russia and China.

-- Thirty-nine percent (39%) of voters favor building more nuclear power plants in the United States. Thirty-seven (37%) are opposed.

-- Just 18% of Americans believe it is the government’s job to tell people what kind of light bulb to use.

-- That helps explain why 60% still oppose the ban on traditional bulbs that took effect on January 1.

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