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What They Told Us: Reviewing Last Week’s Key Polls - Week Ending January 10, 2015

Obama vs. Congress – Round One. Voters are strongly hoping the country comes out the winner.

In a 50-50 nation, it’s no surprise that voters are evenly divided when asked whether President Obama or the new Republican-led Congress should take the lead on issues important to the nation.

Taxes, spending, Obamacare and immigration top Congress’ to-do list as far as voters are concerned, but they also fully expect partisan politics to get in the way.

Voters still believe government spending will go up during the president’s last two years in office but think taxes are likely to remain about the same.

Looking for places to cut? Americans continue to believe that government employees earn more, do less and have more job security than those in the private sector.

The outgoing postmaster general criticized Congress this week for not allowing the financially troubled U.S. Postal Service make needed reforms like cutting mail delivery to five days a week, but Americans aren’t entirely convinced the agency should be able to make budget changes without Congress.

As for Obamacare, voters are nearly tied in their views of it, the health care law’s best showing since just before its official rollout in November 2013. But they still expect the quality of health care to suffer and costs to go up as a result of the law.

For the first time, however, most voters want the health care law fixed on a piece by piece basis rather than repealed entirely

Voters are also closely divided over whether Congress should try to find ways to stop the president’s plan to allow several million illegal immigrants stay in this country legally and apply for jobs.

The president of Mexico visited with Obama this week and assured him that Mexico will do all it can to make his new plan a reality. But most voters favor ending foreign aid to our southern neighbor until it does more to prevent illegal border crossings.

Despite the huge Republicans gains on Election Day, the president’s job approval ratings have improved steadily over the last couple months, so both sides are coming to the negotiating table feeling that they have the support of the American people.

Democrats have kicked off 2015 with a lead over Republicans on the Generic Congressional Ballot. But the parties have been within two points of each other most weeks for months.

Both sides also will try to take credit for the improving economy. Our regular economic indicators including the Rasmussen Consumer and Investor Index suggest that something other than traditional beginning-of-the year optimism is going on.

The Rasmussen Employment Index which measures worker confidence continues to climb, hitting a six-year high for the second month in a row in December.

Thirty percent (30%) now believe the unemployment rate will be lower in a year's time, the highest level of optimism in two years.

Thirty-three percent (33%) of voters think the country is heading in the right direction. While this is far from a cause for celebration, it’s the first time this finding has climbed out of the 20s in months. Will optimism continue to grow?

The horrifying events in France remind us of the ever-present threat of terrorism, a topic we will address in surveys early next week. Jury selection began on Monday in the trial of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev nearly two years after his arrest for the bombing of the Boston Marathon in 2013. Most voters still think the bombing suspect should receive a death sentence if convicted.

Looking a few months down the road, most of the presidential attention among Democrats is focused on Hillary Clinton and Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, but for Republicans the field is wide open - with candidates both old and new. So how do voters feel about the GOP presidential contest this far out? 

In other surveys last week:

-- With only a handful of reported cases in this country, Americans are less concerned about the threat of Ebola and more confident the U.S. public health system can handle the killer virus.

-- The U.S. birthrate declined for the sixth year in a row in 2014, but Americans are still more worried about the population growing too fast rather than too slow.

-- Seventy-three percent (73%) of voters agree it’s important for someone to be married before they have children.

-- Fewer voters now think there should be a waiting period before allowing a woman to have an abortion.

-- Very few voters know how much the United States spends on students each year, but they do know the money being spent isn’t doing much good.

-- More voters than ever think women are good for the U.S. military and believe even more strongly that they should be allowed to fight on the front lines.

-- Is the telephone fading away as a means of communication? 

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