WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans' views of President Barack Obama have improved slightly in the past two months, and opinions are more positive about the direction of the country and the health of the economy, an Associated Press-GfK poll finds.
A slim majority now approves of the way Obama is handling unemployment, according to the poll, conducted before Friday's release of a surprisingly strong jobs report.
Forty-seven percent of those surveyed approve of how Obama is doing his job, compared with 41 percent in December, and 51 percent approve of his handling of unemployment, compared with 44 percent before.
Nearly half say the economy is good now, while 41 percent thought that in December. In December 2013, only one-third called the economy good.
Approval of the way Obama is handling the economy improved slightly, 41 percent to 45 percent, over the past two months.
Friday's report showed that U.S. employers added 257,000 jobs in January, and the average hourly wage grew by 12 cents to $24.75, the biggest gain since September 2008. Hourly pay has increased 2.2 percent in the past year.
"We've come a long way these past six years since we suffered the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression," Obama said Friday in Indianapolis. "In 2014, our economy created more than 3.1 million jobs, and that's the best year of job growth since the 1990s," adding that "America is poised for another good year."
Despite the increase in jobs, the unemployment rate rose to 5.7 percent from 5.6 percent, largely because more people began looking for jobs. An increase in the number of job hunters can indicate that people are more confident in their ability to find work, even if the official unemployment rate goes up.
But people still feel that their own recovery is lagging, the poll shows, with only 35 percent saying their own family has completely or mostly recovered from economic downturn.
Just 27 percent see the job market where they live as being most of the way to recovery, far less than the number that thinks big businesses (55 percent) and the stock market (53 percent) have bounced all the way back.
People also fear the possibility of another downturn. Three-quarters say the government has not put the right rules and regulations in place to stop another recession from occurring.
Obama has been keen to take credit for the improving economic landscape, arguing that new financial regulations, an early boost in government spending and the bailout of the auto industry under his watch were essential to the recovery.
Economic concerns remain at the top of Americans' minds, the AP-GfK poll shows, with 9 in 10 calling the economy a very or extremely important issue, significantly more than any other issue asked about in the poll.
The poll finds that people are slightly more likely to trust Democrats than Republicans on handling economic issues, 33 percent to 28 percent.
Improving views of the president also came with a small increase in the percentage that thinks the country is headed in the right direction — 39 percent compared with 33 percent in December.
Much of that improvement was among Democrats, two-thirds of whom now think the country is headed in the right direction. Improved ratings among Democrats appeared to boost Obama's approval rating.
Bolstered by lower unemployment, greater consumer confidence and evidence of a rise in his approval ratings, Obama has made an aggressive start to his final two years in office even after November's elections gave control of Congress to Republicans. The White House hopes a stronger recovery gives Obama the credibility to confront Republicans with his own economic pitch.
In spite of growing optimism about politics and the economy, 8 in 10 people questioned have little confidence that Obama and Republicans in Congress can work together to solve the country's problems.
Americans blame both sides for the perceived impasse. About half thinks Obama doesn't compromise enough with Republicans to get things done, while 6 in 10 say Republicans don't compromise enough with Obama. Fewer than 2 in 10 think either side compromises too much.
The AP-GfK Poll of 1,045 adults was conducted online Jan. 29-Feb. 2, using a sample drawn from GfK's probability-based KnowledgePanel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods, and later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn't otherwise have access to the Internet were provided access at no cost to them.
AP-GfK Poll: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com
Associated Press writers Jim Kuhnhenn and Christopher S. Rugaber contributed to this report.
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