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What They Told Us: Reviewing Last Week’s Key Polls: Week of March 8

Jobs, jobs, jobs. Americans rank job creation second in importance only to the economy, but last month’s slight improvement in the jobs picture can’t mask some major underlying concerns.

The Rasmussen Employment Index which measures worker confidence rose two points in February, continuing the upward trend it began in November and correctly signaling that yesterday’s federal government report on job creation would be stronger than the prior month’s report.

But 73% of Americans know someone who is out of work and looking for a job, the highest finding in a year. Perhaps even more significantly, 46% now know someone who, out of frustration with the difficult job market, has given up looking for work. That’s up five points from January.

As for new entrants into the jobs market, expectations remain low. Just 25% of voters think most high school graduates have the skills needed to enter the workforce.

One of the hardest hit segments continues to be young black Americans. Only 16% think life for young blacks has gotten better since President Obama’s election in November 2008, while 22% believe it’s gotten worse. Thirty-nine percent (39%) think it is at least somewhat likely that the president’s new $200-million My Brother’s Keeper initiative will improve life for black youth, but that includes just 10% who say it’s Very Likely.

The Rasmussen Consumer and Investor Indexes which measure daily confidence in both groups remain at levels seen the first of the year. It will be interesting to see if the slightly improved jobs picture moves those numbers at all.

Speaking of jobs, the president’s monthly job approval rating rose a point to 49% in February. That’s up from 45% in November, his lowest monthly approval in two years, but still down seven points from December 2012’s recent high of 56%.

Obama’s daily job approval rating has been trending down slightly in recent days but remains in the range seen for much of his presidency.

A continuing headache for the president are the problems associated with the rollout of the new national health care law. One-in-three voters now says his or her health insurance coverage has changed as a result of Obamacare, and the same number say the law has had a negative personal impact on them.

New on the president’s radar screen is the political upheaval in Ukraine which is escalating tensions between the United States and Russia. U.S. voters are increasingly critical of Russia which is exercising territorial claims to western Ukraine, and 37% agree with Obama’s decision to take diplomatic action against the Russians. But just as many (36%) disagree and oppose U.S. diplomatic action against the former Soviet Union.

At the same time, Americans are increasingly worried about a return to a Cold War between the longtime superpower rivals.

While these tensions are growing, the Obama administration is proposing major cuts in the national defense budget, but just 26% of voters now feel the United States overspends on defense. Still, awareness that this country spends more in this area than any other country has fallen to a new low.

Most voters continue to favor the idea of across-the-board government spending cuts as long as everything is on the table. If the military budget or entitlement programs are excluded, support for spending cuts drops dramatically. But just 23% think it’s even somewhat likely that government spending will be significantly reduced over the next few years anyway.

This week’s Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in the Washington, D.C. suburbs is a showcase for Republicans who want to follow Obama in the White House. All the top contenders are there. Texas Governor Rick Perry is one of those who has his eye on the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, and 55% of Lone Star State voters approve of the job Perry is doing.

With New Jersey Governor Chris Christie still embroiled in the so-called “Bridgegate” scandal, GOP moderates have been looking more and more at former Florida Governor Jeb Bush. Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton holds a 47% to 33% lead over Bush in a hypothetical 2016 presidential matchup, but 50% are less likely to vote for Bush because of his family’s history in the White House. Just 16% think Clinton is too old to be president.

As for this year’s races, Republican Attorney General Greg Abbott leads Democratic State Senator Wendy Davis by 12 points in Rasmussen Reports’ first look at the 2014 Texas gubernatorial race.

Democrats hold a three-point lead over Republicans on the latest Generic Congressional Ballot.

John Boehner now earns the worst voter reviews in the three years he’s been speaker of the House. Twenty-nine percent (29%) of Likely U.S. Voters have at least a somewhat favorable opinion of Boehner, while 56% view him unfavorably. But House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi isn’t faring any better.

In other surveys this week:

Twenty-eight percent (28%) of Likely U.S. Voters think the country is heading in the right direction.

-- Cancer ranks number one when Americans are asked what's the worst disease they face.

-- Twenty-two percent (22%) think we will find a cure for Alzheimer’s disease within the next 10 years.

-- Sixty-seven percent (67%) of Americans consider themselves to be healthy eaters.

-- Just 12% of Americans now say they rarely or never look at food nutrition labels.

-- So what do Americans think about the nutritional information they're given and the food they eat?

-- Thirty-six percent (36%) favor a ban on disposable plastic shopping bags in their state.

-- Americans will be springing forward an hour this weekend for Daylight Saving Time, but fewer think it's worth the effort or even an effective way to save energy.

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