WASHINGTON – When it comes to the economy, half of Americans in a new poll say it won't matter much whether Barack Obama or Mitt Romney wins — even though the presidential candidates have staked their chances on which one would be better at fixing the economic mess.
People are especially pessimistic about the future president's influence over jobs, according to the Associated Press-GfK poll. Asked how much impact the November winner will have on unemployment, 6 in 10 gave answers ranging from slim to none.
Yet the candidates, the polls and the pundits agree — the economy is the issue of 2012. Can either man convince voters that he would set things right?
James Gray of Snow Hill, N.C., is skeptical.
"It doesn't look to me like the economy or nothing gets better no matter who you've got up there," Gray said. "I don't know why it is."
A retired policeman, Gray plans to vote for Romney and thinks the Republican might win. But Gray doesn't have much hope that would improve the economy or help people like him, living on a fixed income. "Every time you go to the grocery store the prices have gone up," he said.
Years of disappointing economic news following the 2007-2009 recession have deflated American optimism. And worries about financial troubles in Europe and congressional gridlock at home hang over the future. Two-thirds of people still describe the economy as poor. And two-thirds expect unemployment to stay where it is or climb even higher over the next year.
"Right now it's so bad," said Maria Fisher of Timber Pines, Fla. "I wish everything was better."
Fisher, a preschool teacher at the YMCA, said she favors Romney because he's a Republican and a successful businessman. She's ready "to give him the chance to fix all these problems," she said, but doubts there's much the president can do.
Lots of Obama supporters feel the same way.
"The office of the president as a single person doesn't have as much influence as we generally attribute to them," said Jeff Guertin, a mechanical engineer in Bedford, N.H., who wants to keep Obama in office.
Guertin said a president is limited by Congress' willingness to go along with his ideas, as well as all sorts of other factors, including world events, that affect whether the U.S. economy grows or shrinks.
Asked how much impact the person living in the White House in 2013 will have on the overall economy, 48 percent in the survey say a "great deal" or "a lot." Fifty percent give answers ranging from "just some" to no impact.
Republicans are more likely than Democrats to predict that the winner's imprint will be felt: 58 percent say the election's outcome will affect the economy. Yet fewer than half of Republicans foresee much impact on joblessness.
On the nation's huge budget deficits, a majority of people surveyed — 55 percent — say the presidential winner will have from just some to no impact.
Those with little confidence that the winner can fix things are also more pessimistic overall — just 32 percent of them think the economy will improve in the coming year. In contrast, among those who expect a substantial impact from the election's outcome, almost half think the economy will get better.
Everett Hickman, an Obama supporter, said he thinks both campaigns overplay how much a president can do.
"The federal government has some influence over the economy," said Hickman, a retired radio news reporter living in Charlotte, N.C. "It doesn't have the kind of push-pull, click-clack control that some people seem to think, or pretend to think."
The Associated Press-GfK Poll was conducted June 14-18 by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cellphone interviews with 1,007 adults nationwide. Results for the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.0 percentage points.
Associated Press Deputy Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta and News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.
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