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

Saturday, May 31, 2014

President Obama this week spoke of the diminished role of the military in his foreign policy and at week’s end dumped the former general in charge of veterans’ retirement benefits.

The president in a graduation speech Wednesday at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point outlined his belief in a foreign policy that relies more on diplomacy and less on military force. Given voter unhappiness with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s no surprise that 60% continue to believe America’s political leaders send U.S. soldiers into harm’s way too often.

Americans consistently express high regards for the nation’s military, but as more and more stories emerge about health care problems at the federal Department of Veterans Affairs, just 21% give the federal government good or excellent marks for its administration of benefits to military veterans.

Forty-two percent (42%) of voters said early this week that Eric Shinseki, the secretary of Veterans Affairs, should resign from Obama’s Cabinet because of the problems that have been exposed in his department. On Friday, he did resign after a closed-door meeting with the president.

Obama’s daily job approval ratings appear to be unaffected by the growing VA scandal and remain as they have been for most of his presidency in the negative mid- to high teens.

Democrats can expect to hear about the VA’s failures on the campaign trail, though. To gain full control of Congress, Republicans need a net gain of six Senate seats this November, but Democrats are hoping to take one in Kentucky from the GOP column to blunt this takeover effort. However, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell now has a seven-point lead over Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes in Kentucky’s U.S. Senate race following the state’s May 20 party primaries.

Republican Congressman Tom Cotton still holds a narrow lead over incumbent Democrat Mark Pryor in Arkansas’ U.S. Senate race.

Pediatric neurosurgeon Monica Wehby was the winner of Oregon’s May 20 GOP primary. She trails Democratic incumbent Jeff Merkley by 10 points in our first look at the Senate race in Oregon.

Obamacare is expected to be a major debating point in all three of these races, as it will be in most Senate and House contests nationwide. Most voters continue to view the new health care law unfavorably, but they are slightly more supportive of its required levels of health insurance coverage.

Voters overwhelmingly believe wealthy donors and special interest groups pull the strings in Washington, but a plurality (48%) still thinks media bias is a bigger problem than big campaign contributions in politics today. Nearly as many (44%) say big campaign contributions are the bigger problem.

Congress routinely earns low job approval ratings, and yet most incumbents get reelected. What does America think about this perpetual Congress?

Democrats continue to lead Republicans by four points on the latest Generic Congressional Ballot.

Incumbent Republican Nathan Deal trails Democratic challenger Jason Carter by seven points in Rasmussen Reports’ first look at the Georgia gubernatorial race.

In a gubernatorial race between two former U.S. congressmen, Republican Asa Hutchinson has pulled ahead of Democrat Mike Ross in Arkansas.

Of more immediate importance to many Americans is the coming close of the school year. Americans overwhelmingly believe in the importance of young people having a summer job, but 75% believe it will be difficult for them to find one in the current economy.

As high school graduation nears for many, fewer voters than ever (19%) think most high schoolers have the skills necessary to get a job, and they’re no more confident in their readiness for college.

Consumer and investor confidence in the overall economy, though, remains higher than it was at the first of the year and than it has been for most of the time since the Wall Street meltdown in 2008.

Still, just over half (52%) of all Americans remain confident in the stability of the U.S. banking system. By comparison, 68% were confident in the banking system in July 2008, prior to the meltdown.

Most continue to be concerned about inflation and lack confidence in the Federal Reserve to keep inflation under control and interest rates down. This helps explain why 73% expect grocery prices to keep going up. More Americans (31%) say they owe more money this month, but most (58%) say their interest rates haven't changed.

In other surveys this week:

-- Twenty-nine percent (29%) of Likely U.S. Voters think the country is heading in the right direction, consistent with surveys since mid-December.

-- Voters are more optimistic than ever that the United States can completely end its dependence on oil imports, but just 25% think this country does enough to develop its own gas and oil resources.

-- Most voters still oppose closing the Guantanamo terrorist prison camp. Nearly half (47%) think the United States is safer because suspected terrorists have been imprisoned there.

-- Fifty-five percent (55%) of Americans say they have read a book or poem by author and activist Maya Angelou, who died this week.

-- More Americans now rank Memorial Day among the nation’s most important holidays, and 45% planned to do something special last Monday to celebrate and honor those who have given their life for our country.

-- Reality TV star Kim Kardashian and hip-hop superstar Kanye West were married last weekend in Paris. The news of their wedding was nearly inescapable, but that doesn't mean most Americans like the newlyweds very much.