WASHINGTON – This is one pessimistic country.
Most Americans harbor doubts that President Barack Obama and resurgent Republicans can work together to solve the nation's problems, according to the latest Associated Press-GfK poll. In fact, many lack confidence that last week's elections will change much of anything in Washington.
People are far more negative about the ultimate impact of the first big elections of Obama's presidency — in which the GOP made huge gains across the country — than they were about the results two years ago when voters elected the Democrat and padded his party's House and Senate majorities.
It's more like nope.
"I don't think they're going to reach any compromise at all on anything," Dan Dore, a pilot from Freeland, Mich., said Wednesday. "They say, 'Yah, we're going to play nice,' but when it comes time to get anything done, I just don't believe it will happen. We hear the same rhetoric every two years, every four years, every six years."
"I have faith in the system. I have very very little faith in the people involved in the system," regardless of political affiliation, added Dore, 42 and an independent voter.
Just a week after the GOP benefited from change-craving voters looking to punish the party in power, Americans are much less optimistic that Republicans in Congress will be able to implement the policies they promised than they were about Obama making good on his campaign promises in 2008. And only about half expect that the GOP's policies will improve the economy.
The economy is still by far the largest issue facing the country, with the unemployment rate stuck at 9.6 percent. And it tops the list of what both Obama and Republicans said they'll focus on in the coming year.
Voters could punish everyone come 2012 — when Obama is up for re-election and when voters will render a verdict on Republican rule in the House — if they don't see progress being made.
Both Obama and House Republican leader John Boehner, the House speaker-to-be, have indicated a willingness to try to work together. But they also have suggested there are limits to how far each is willing to bend. On the other side of Capitol Hill, Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell has said that his top political priority over the next two years should be to deny Obama a second term in office.
"When the administration agrees with the American people, we will agree with the administration. When it disagrees with the American people, we won't," McConnell, R-Ky., said last week.
Is it any wonder Americans have little belief that all sides will come together?
Still, some are cautiously optimistic.
"Because of the economy the way it is and because so many people are out of work, I'm hoping both parties put their best foot forward and can work together to get this resolved in a professional way without bickering," said Mary Ammon of Cochranville, Pa., a 58-year-old receptionist who just lost her job after 20 years.
"It's going to be hard," she said. "Both parties are going to have to put aside their animosity for each other and take the interests of the people to heart because the United States is in bad shape."
Overall, just over a third of people say Obama deserves all or a great deal of blame for what he called a Democratic "shellacking," while the same share say he deserves some of the blame and three in 10 say very little or none. His overall standing is holding steady in the wake of the big Republican victories, with about half the country — 51 percent to 47 percent — disapproving of how the president is doing his job.
His marks for handling the economy remain low, 41 percent approving and 58 percent disapproving.
Last week, the country fired more than 60 House and Senate members — most Democrats — after one of the busiest congressional sessions in decades. The Democratic-controlled House and Senate passed and Obama, a Democratic president, signed into law an $814 billion economic stimulus plan, a sweeping health care overhaul, and financial regulatory changes.
But frustrated with one-party control, Americans voted for a divided power structure in Washington. And many people now think a do-nothing Congress could be the result.
Among the survey's findings:
— A big chunk of people — nearly four in 10 — have no opinion of Boehner of Ohio, while 35 percent view him positively and 27 percent view him negatively.
— Four in 10 people say the outcome of last week's elections will be good for the country, while two in 10 say it will be bad. A third say the new reality — Republicans in control of the House, while Democrats narrowly control the Senate and run the White House — won't make a difference. Also, nearly half of independents say the change won't matter.
— Just a third are proud of the 2010 results, compared with six in 10 expressing pride after the 2008 presidential race. About a quarter are excited, compared with half two years ago. And two-thirds are hopeful, down from three-fourths after the last election. America is more disappointed, with 44 percent expressing this emotion compared with 31 percent two years ago.
— A narrow majority are optimistic that the GOP will be "successful in bringing about the changes needed to improve the economy," including about half of independents and just over a third of Democrats.
— Most — 58 percent — lack confidence that Obama and Republicans can collaborate to solve the nation's woes; 41 percent are confident, with six percent "very confident." The doubts span the ideological spectrum; half or more across party lines lack confidence. Republicans express deepest skepticism, followed by independents and then Democrats.
The findings are slightly more pessimistic than in 2006 after Democrats won control of Congress when President George W. Bush, a Republican, was in the White House. Back then, 51 percent lacked confidence in all sides coming together, while 47 percent were optimistic that collaboration would occur to fix the country's problems.
Little got accomplished in the two years after that election. Iraq dominated the national debate and further divided Democrats and Republicans. Proposals including immigration reform died on Capitol Hill. And Democrats launched a series of inquires into the GOP-run White House.
This year, in a show of comity after a caustic election, Obama plans to meet with House and Senate GOP leaders next week.
On Wednesday, Boehner laid out his agenda for that meeting: "Have a nice conversation. Figure out how we make all of the current tax rates permanent so we can help end the uncertainty that's stopping employers from hiring more people. Talk about how we can reduce spending. I think it's important that we reduce spending to pre-bailout, pre-stimulus levels."
Finding middle ground? He didn't mention it this time.
The AP-GfK Poll was conducted Nov. 3-8 by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cell phone interviews with 1, 000 adults nationwide, and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.
Associated Press Deputy Polling Director Jennifer Agiesta and News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.