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DIGITS: Fed up, but not tuning out

Updated at: 11/07/2013 2:35 AM
By JENNIFER AGIESTA

If there’s one word that describes how Americans feel about politics these days, it’s "negative." Majorities disapprove of Congress and the president and say the nation is heading in the wrong direction. Few trust their political leaders to make the right decisions, and some polls suggest voters would like to see the whole lot turned out next November.

Yet an Associated Press-GfK poll in October found more people tuning in to politics _ warts and all _ than tuning out.

It’s not a major election year, so day-to-day interest in following news about politics and elections was lower than at the height of last year’s presidential campaign. But just 11 percent said they’re less interested in politics today than four years ago, while 30 percent said they’re more interested than in 2009, before the birth of the tea party or the passage of the health insurance overhaul, when people were about twice as likely as they are now to say the country was heading in the right direction.

Although those who are increasingly attentive to politics now are more likely to identify with a political party than as political independents, they seem to buck a notable trend in Washington: Rather than reflecting the increasing polarization seen in Congress, they tend to mirror the positions of the overall American public. The poll suggests those paying more attention to politics these days hold similar views to Americans generally on a range of prominent issues: the health overhaul law, gun laws, illegal immigration, abortion, same-sex marriage and the seriousness of climate change.

Tuesday’s elections in New Jersey and Virginia also suggested a win for the ideological middle. According to exit polls conducted for The Associated Press, Virginia voters broadly rejected Republican Ken Cuccinelli as "too conservative," and GOP Gov. Chris Christie trampled Democratic nominee Barbara Buono despite 57 percent of his state’s voters holding a negative impression of his party.

Those tuning out are less likely to see big differences between what the Democrats and Republicans stand for, a position that may reflect judgments about politicians’ motivations rather than their policies.

They frequently cite negativity in politics rather than specific positions as a reason for their distaste. One poll respondent said, "The Republicans are acting like babies. The Democrats are acting like babies. It’s unsettling and disgusting." Another, "I get tired of hearing the bickering, and I don’t trust anything any of the politicians say."

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted Oct. 3-7, 2013, and involved online interviews with 1,227 adults. The survey has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points for all respondents.

The survey was conducted using KnowledgePanel, a probability-based Internet panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. Panelists were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods and later interviewed for this survey online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were provided with the ability to access it at no cost to them.

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Online:

AP-GfK Poll: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com

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Follow Jennifer Agiesta on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/JennAgiesta

(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)