WASHINGTON (AP) — Christmastime is here and a new poll reveals the cards and gifts that are part of celebrating the holiday are ubiquitous, even among those who don’t share the Christian beliefs behind the story of the Magi who gave the first Christmas gifts.
According to the Associated Press-GfK poll, 77 percent of Americans plan to exchange gifts this holiday season and 48 percent will send greeting cards. The gift-giving set includes about 8 in 10 Christians and 73 percent of those who say they have no religious beliefs.
Greeting cards also cross denominational lines, with 53 percent of Protestants, 55 percent of Catholics and 40 percent of those without religious beliefs saying they will send cards this year.
Here’s a look at how Americans view this season’s greetings:
THE PHOTO CARD GENERATION
Americans who aren’t religious are less likely to send cards because they tend to be younger, and young people are less apt to send cards, regardless of their religious beliefs. Fifty-two percent of non-religious Americans over age 50 plan to send cards, not far off the 57 percent of Protestants and 64 percent of Catholics in that age group who will send them.
Young people are the least likely of all demographic groups to say they’ll send cards this year. Just 29 percent of Americans under age 30 plan to, compared with 64 percent of seniors. The young are also the least likely to receive cards. Two-thirds under age 30 receive five Christmas cards or less per year. Among seniors, just 18 percent receive five or fewer cards in a typical year.
Those under-30s, raised in the age of email, are most likely to reject the concept of cards altogether. Asked what type of card they prefer to receive, 21 percent say none, thanks. Just 8 percent of seniors share that view.
Younger adults who do like holiday cards are more likely to say they want a photo card, while the older set tends to prefer handwritten notes or Christmas letters. A third of those under age 50 say photo cards are their favorites, compared with 18 percent of those age 50 or older. Among those 50 or older, 54 percent prefer a pre-printed or boxed card with a note or a personal signature, compared with 36 percent of younger adults. Another 12 percent age 50 or older say they’d really like a Christmas letter. And regardless of age, no one embraces the holiday e-card: Just 2 percent say they want one of those.
MARRIAGE, GENDER GAPS ON CARDS AND GIFTS
Women are more likely than men to say they will send seasonal greetings to friends or loved ones this year, with married women most likely of all to send a card full of holiday cheer. About two-thirds of married women said they will send out cards, compared with 52 percent of married men, 42 percent of unmarried women and just 31 percent of unmarried men.
On the gift front, married people are more apt to give presents than those who aren’t married (82 percent plan to exchange gifts this year compared with 66 percent of those who have never been married), though the gap between men and women among married people is significantly smaller than the card gap (84 percent of married women plan to give gifts compared to 80 percent of married men).
HANDMADE VS. STORE BOUGHT
D-I-Y is not on Americans’ wish list. Asked whether they prefer to receive a store-bought gift or a handmade one, Americans err on the side of the stores. By a 62 percent to 35 percent margin, people prefer their gifts to come from the store. Women (41 percent), rural residents (43 percent) and whites (38 percent) are most apt to favor handmade presents.
When giving, however, the preference for store-bought wares is even stronger. Overall, 85 percent of Americans who will exchange gifts this year say they would rather buy a gift than make one. Women (17 percent) are still more likely than men to prefer handmade gifts.
HOW MANY STAMPS?
When it comes to cards, Americans receive more than they give. Although 50 percent of Americans say they won’t send any cards this year, just 11 percent say they don’t typically receive any cards. Forty percent say they usually get more than 10 cards around the holidays.
Among the 48 percent who say they will send a card this year, 50 percent say they will send fewer than 20 cards. Those who plan to send more drive up the average to about 30 cards per sender, including 11 percent who say they plan to send more than 50 cards this year, presumably including one for the postman.
The AP-GfK Poll of 1,010 adults was conducted online Dec. 4-8, 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 3.4 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
By a 2-1 margin, those who had an opinion opposed using drones for commercial purposes. Only 21 percent favored commercial use of drones, compared with 43 percent opposed. Another 35 percent were in the middle.
With a few narrow exceptions, the Federal Aviation Administration prohibits commercial use of drones but is about to propose regulations that will broaden the use of small ones. It may be two or three years before the rules take effect, but once they do thousands are expected to buzz U.S. skies.
Congress may also step in next year to try to nudge the FAA to move faster. Drones are forecast to create 100,000 jobs and $82 billion in economic impact in the first 10 years they’re allowed, according to the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, a trade group.
Only 3 percent of people say they’ve operated small drones, which are essentially the same as remote-controlled model aircraft.
Support for using commercial drones was the weakest among women and seniors, while college graduates and wealthier people were more apt to favor it.
Elliot Farber, 26, said drones are just the latest technological advancement and he doesn’t understand why anyone would oppose them.
“It’s really wild to think about it,” said Farber, who works in a casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey. “It’s literally something you would see in a movie and now they’re talking about it like it’s a true possibility. I think it’s inevitable it will happen. I think it’s a great thing.”
But Roberta Williams, 66, said she doesn’t believe “the average person should be allowed to just go out and get one to do whatever they want to do with it.” She worries people will put guns or other weapons on them and use them for sinister purposes.
The reliability of drones is another concern. “This is still a remote-control vehicle, and those things go amok,” said Williams, a retired nonprofit organization manager who lives in Fort Collins, Colorado.
Still, the survey showed many Americans see value in the use of drones for certain tasks, such as inspecting oil platforms and bridges. Majorities also said they favor using drones to help map terrain through aerial photography, and to monitor wildlife.
But — Amazon take note — only 1 in 4 thinks using drones to deliver small packages is a good idea. Thirty-nine percent were opposed, and 34 percent were neutral on that question. Nearly the same share opposed using drones to take photographs or videos at weddings and other private events. A third opposed allowing farmers to use drones to spray crops, while another third supported it. Only 23 percent said they favored the recreational use of small drones.
Ramona Jones, 65, said that if Amazon uses drones to deliver packages as it has proposed, delivery services like UPS, FedEx and the postal service won’t be far behind. She envisions skies crowded with drones running into each other and raining debris on people below.
“It sounds futuristic, but how are they going to manage that?” said Jones, of Austin, Texas. “Just like we have cars on the highway … somebody is still going to hit somebody else.”
Robert Waters, 54, a history professor at Ohio Northern University, said he favors commercial use of drones but has misgivings.
“They could definitely improve people’s lives,” he said. “Of course, they could also make them miserable with the kind of spying that people could do on each other. It’s a double-edged sword.”
Nearly three-fifths of those polled said they were extremely or very concerned that private operators could use drones in a way that violates privacy.
The FAA is expected to propose restricting drones weighing less than 55 pounds to flights under 400 feet high, forbid nighttime flights, and require drones be kept within sight of their operators.
It also may require drone operators to get pilot’s licenses, which would be controversial. Critics say the skills needed to fly a manned aircraft are different from those needed to operate a drone. But 64 percent support requiring the pilot’s licenses.
Eddy Dufault, 58, a machinist and part-time wildlife photographer in Marlborough, Massachusetts, who is considering buying a drone, said he agrees with most of the restrictions, but opposes licensing. It can cost would-be pilots $15,000 for the needed flight training and practice flights, he said, adding it would be more appropriate to require operators to attend a few classes and pass a drone flight test.
“There are people who are going to abuse it no matter what you do,” he said, “but 99.9 percent of them won’t.”
The poll of 1,010 adults was conducted online Dec. 4-8, using a sample drawn from GfK’s probability-based KnowledgePanel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.
WASHINGTON (AP) — A Congress that began with bright hopes for immigration legislation is ending in bitter divisions on the issue even as some Republicans warn that the political imperative for acting is stronger than ever for the GOP.
In place of a legislative solution, President Barack Obama’s recent executive action to curb deportations for millions here illegally stands as the only federal response to what all lawmakers agree is a dysfunctional immigration system. Many Democrats are convinced Latino voters will reward them for Obama’s move in the 2016 presidential and Senate elections, while some Republicans fear they will have a price to pay.
“If we don’t make some down payment toward a rational solution on immigration in 2015, early 2016, good luck winning the White House,” said Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, an author of the comprehensive immigration bill that passed the Senate last year with bipartisan support, but stalled in the GOP-led House.
With the expiration of the 113th Congress this month, that bill will officially die, along with its path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants in this country illegally.
Immigration is certain to be a focus for the new, fully Republican-led Congress when it convenes in January — but there’s little expectation the GOP will make another attempt at comprehensive reforms.
Instead, GOP leaders in the House and Senate have pledged to take action to block Obama’s executive moves, setting up a battle for late February when funding expires for the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees immigration matters. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has promised action on a border security bill as part of that.
Whether Congress can do anything to stop Obama remains unclear, since he’s certain to veto any effort to undo his executive moves. It’s also not clear lawmakers could pass a border bill, or that Obama would sign it if they did.
While some congressional Republicans are arguing for action on piecemeal reforms, most advocates are resigned to waiting until a new president takes office in 2017 for lawmakers to make another attempt at a comprehensive overhaul that resolves the central immigration dilemma — the status of the millions here illegally.
“They had the best chance in a generation and they couldn’t get enough support from the Republican caucus,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, an immigrant advocacy group. “It may well be that they’re going to have to lose the White House and both chambers of Congress for us to get comprehensive immigration reform.”
When Obama won a second term in 2012 with strong Hispanic and Asian support, many national Republican leaders decided they needed to support policies that would attract those growing blocs of voters. The Republican National Committee formally embraced support for comprehensive immigration reform as a guiding principle for the GOP.
But legislative efforts stalled in the House as conservative Republicans balked at Boehner’s efforts to advance the issue. Last summer’s crisis over an influx of unaccompanied Central American minors arriving at the border caused shelter overloads and case backlogs, straining resources and creating the impression that the border was out of control — further souring political prospects for reform legislation.
In absence of congressional efforts, Obama promised he would act on his own, and he made good on that shortly after last month’s midterm elections, announcing an array of changes that will include work permits and three-year deportation stays for some 4 million immigrants here illegally. It mostly applies to those who’ve been here more than five years and have kids who are U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents.
The move inflamed Republicans, who have been fighting about it ever since, including a failed effort by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, to block Obama in a Senate floor vote this past weekend. On Tuesday the dispute spilled over into debate on Obama’s nominee to lead the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, Sarah Saldana, the U.S. attorney in Dallas. She was confirmed 55-39 by the Senate over objections from Republicans who had initially supported her but turned against her because of her support for Obama’s executive actions.
Meanwhile, some immigration advocates complained that the steps didn’t go far enough as Obama faced criticism from both sides of the political divide.
A new Associated Press-GfK poll found that most Americans support allowing immigrants living in the country illegally a way to stay here lawfully. But only 43 percent of them think Obama was right to take executive action to make those changes, while 54 percent of them say he should have kept trying to make a deal with Republicans. Still, the poll also showed little sign of blowback for Obama. Although 57 percent disapprove of Obama’s handling of the immigration issue, that was down slightly from 63 percent in October.
A group of 24 states joined in a federal lawsuit filed in Texas alleging that Obama overstepped his constitutional powers in a way that will only worsen the humanitarian problems along the southern U.S. border. And Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio is in federal court in Washington, contending that the policy is a magnet for more illegal entries into the country that will impose a burden on law enforcement.
In a court filing late Monday, the Justice Department argued for dismissal of Arpaio’s case, saying he has failed to substantiate his claims.
Congressional Republicans say that Obama’s actions created an even tougher climate for immigration legislation, but many Democrats and advocates contend that Republicans were terminally stalled on the issue anyway. Some Republicans question whether immigration legislation really is a political imperative for the GOP. “It’s really mixed out there — some people want a big immigration bill, others don’t,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, a supporter of reform efforts.
And two years after a “Gang of Eight” senators launched an immigration overhaul drive on Capitol Hill, some of those same players say they have no plans to initiate another such effort.
“I’m not going to start it in the Senate,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. “We’ve tried that.”
Associated Press News Survey Specialist Emily Swanson and writer Pete Yost contributed to this report.
By Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar
WASHINGTON (AP) – President Barack Obama’s push to cover America’s uninsured faces another big test Monday.
This time, it’s not only how the website functions, but how well the program itself works for millions who are starting to count on it.
Midnight Monday, Pacific time is the deadline for new customers to pick a health plan that will take effect Jan. 1, and for current enrollees to make changes that could reduce premium increases ahead of the new year.
HealthCare.gov and state insurance websites are preparing for heavy online traffic before the deadline, which gives consumers in the East three hours into Tuesday to enroll.
Wait times at the federal call center started creeping up around the middle of last week, mainly due to a surge of current customers with questions about their coverage for next year. Many will face higher premiums, although they could ease the hit by shopping online for a better deal. Counselors reported hold times of 20 minutes or longer for the telephone help line.
About 6.7 million people now have coverage through Obama’s signature law, which offers subsidized private insurance. The administration wants to increase that to 9.1 million in 2015. To do that, the program will have to keep most of its current enrollees while signing up more than 2 million new paying customers.
People no longer can be turned down because of health problems, but picking insurance still is daunting for many consumers. They also have to navigate the process of applying for or updating federal subsidies, which can be complex for certain people, including immigrants. Many returning customers are contending with premium increases generally in the mid-to-high single digits, but much more in some cases.
Consumers “understand it’s complicated but they appreciate the ability to get health insurance,” said Elizabeth Colvin of Foundation Communities, an Austin, Texas, nonprofit that is helping sign up low-income residents. “People who haven’t gone through the process don’t understand how complicated it is.”
Last year’s open enrollment season turned into a race to salvage the reputation of the White House by fixing numerous technical bugs that crippled HealthCare.gov from its first day. With the website now working fairly well, sign-up season this year is a test of whether the program itself is practical for the people it is intended to serve.
New wrinkles have kept popping up, even with seemingly simple features of the Affordable Care Act.
For example, most current customers who do nothing will be automatically renewed Jan. 1 in the plan they now are in. At this point, it looks like that is what a majority intends to do.
While that may sound straightforward, it’s not.
By staying in their current plans, people can get locked into a premium increase and miss out on lower-priced plans for 2015. Not only that, they also will keep their 2014 subsidies, which may be less than what they legally would be entitled to for next year.
Doing nothing appears to be a particularly bad idea for people who turned 21 this year, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington group that advocates for low-income people.
Researchers at the center estimate that 21-year-olds will see a 58 percent increase in the sticker price for their premiums just because they’re a year older. An age-adjustment factor used to compute premiums jumps substantially when a person turns 21. A 20-year-old whose premium was $130 per month in 2014 will see the premium climb to $205 a month in 2015, solely because of that year’s difference.
Tax-credit subsidies can cancel out much or even all of the impact. But if consumers default to automatic renewal, their tax credits will not be updated and they will get the same subsidy as this year.
“Even in the best possible scenario of how many people we can expect to come in, we will still see a substantial number of people defaulting,” said Judy Solomon, a health care policy expert at the center. She worries that some young adults may get discouraged and drop out.
Reviews of HealthCare.gov and state health insurance exchanges are mixed.
An Associated Press-GfK poll this month found that 11 percent of Americans said they or someone else in their household tried to sign up since open enrollment began Nov. 15. Overall, 9 percent said the insurance markets are working extremely well or very well. Twenty-six percent said the exchanges are working somewhat well, and 39 percent said they were not working well. The remaining 24 percent said they didn’t know enough to rate performance.
So far it has been a frustrating experience for Marie Bagot, of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. She and her husband are in their 60s, but not yet old enough for Medicare. The husband, who works as a chef, will turn 65 around the middle of next year and qualify for Medicare. Bagot said they were happy with their insurance this year under Obama’s law.
“As you get older, you worry about your health,” she said. “I was very pleased with the price we got.”
But Bagot said she received a notice from her insurer that her current plan will not be available next year in her community. The closest alternative would involve a premium increase of more than $350 a month, even with their tax credit subsidy. After days of trying to find a comparable plan through the federal call center and after visiting a counselor, Bagot said she opted to keep their current coverage, while hoping costs go down after her husband joins Medicare.
“I cannot afford it, but I’m going to try to,” she said.
Monday is not the last chance for consumers like Bagot. Open enrollment doesn’t end until Feb. 15.
Associated Press Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.