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What They Told Us: Reviewing Last Week’s Key Polls - Week Ending January 16, 2016

Now it’s the Democrats’ turn. Look for the exchanges between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders to get sharper in Sunday night’s debate as some polls show the race for the Democratic presidential nomination tightening.

Republicans and other Clinton foes keep hoping the U.S. Justice Department will make that race even more interesting. A former federal prosecutor recently made headlines with his prediction that Clinton will be indicted soon for trafficking in classified information on a private e-mail server while working as secretary of State. But just over half of Democrats don’t believe Clinton should put her campaign on hold even if she is indicted.

Last summer, 59% of voters said it’s likely Clinton broke the law by sending and receiving e-mails containing classified information through a private e-mail server. Forty-six percent (46%) of all voters - and 24% of Democrats – said at that time that Clinton should suspend her campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination until all of the legal questions about her use of the private e-mail server are resolved.

President Obama inserted himself into the Democratic race with a recent op-ed saying he will not endorse a candidate who doesn’t support his efforts for stricter gun control. Clinton has been criticizing Sanders for not being tough enough on guns and is sure to keep that up Sunday night.

Voters aren’t happy with Obama’s executive orders on gun control and think the government should only do what Congress and the president agree on in that area.

Of course, Obama, Clinton and others aren’t helped by the fact that just 28% of Americans trust the federal government to fairly enforce gun control laws. The majority of voters don't think laws regarding the ownership of guns should be the responsibility of the federal government anyway.

The president’s daily job approval ratings remain in the negative teens.

Most Democrats consider an Obama endorsement important to how they vote this fall. But voters regardless of partisan affiliation agree that the upcoming election will have little to do with the president’s record and will be more about the future agendas of the two major parties.

The president acknowledged in his final State of the Union speech Tuesday night that “the rancor and suspicion between the parties has gotten worse instead of better” during his presidency, while at the same time speaking proudly of what he considers his greatest accomplishments. But for many voters, Obama’s accomplishments are exactly what have divided us.

Sixty-nine percent (69%) said they were likely to watch or follow news reports about the president’s State of the Union address, with 43% who were Very Likely to do so.

All seven candidates on stage at Thursday night’s Republican debate were especially critical of the president’s State of the Union speech, with Obama’s downplaying of the terrorist threat a particular concern. Voters are increasingly critical of the president’s handling of national security issues and think he should focus on terrorism for the remainder of his time in the White House.

In his speech, the president cautioned Americans against “echoing the lie that [the radical Islamic State group ISIS] is somehow representative of one of the world’s largest religions.” That religion went unnamed in his speech. But 60% of voters disagree with the president and say the United States is at war with radical Islamic terrorism. Voters also continue to feel the federal government is not devoting enough attention to the terrorist threat of radical Islam here at home.

Republican front-runner Donald Trump at Thursday’s debate did not back away from his call for a temporary ban on Muslim immigrants to this country until the federal government improves its ability to screen out potential terrorists from coming here. A sizable majority of Republicans – and a plurality of all voters – think Trump has a good idea.

Going into the debate, expectations remained high among Republican voters that Trump is likely to be the GOP’s presidential nominee, according to our latest Trump Change survey.

Despite the threats of terrorism and mass shootings, 49% of voters think life in the United States is safer than in most other countries in the world. Just 15% believe it’s more dangerous here.

But only 28% think the country is headed in the right direction.

In other surveys last week:

-- Do Americans want automatic voter registration?

-- North Korea claims to have made its first hydrogen bomb, and Americans are more concerned that the rogue Communist nation will use a nuclear weapon to attack the United States.

-- Half of Americans intended to get in on this week’s unprecedented $1.6 billion Powerball jackpot even though very few know someone who has ever won a big lottery.

-- Ground Control to Major Tom: Most Americans have a favorable opinion of musician and actor David Bowie who died last Sunday.

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