By CHARLES BABINGTON and JENNIFER AGIESTA, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans have yet to find a Republican they’d clearly prefer over President Barack Obama, although half say the president does not deserve re-election.

Among Republicans, the desire to oust Obama is clear, according to a new AP-GfK poll. But it has not resolved divisions over the choice of a nominee. Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is reasonably popular, but he has not pulled away from the field.

Former pizza company executive Herman Cain runs close to Romney as the candidate Republicans would most like to see on the ballot, but many Republicans are reluctant to back a man who has never held office. Texas Gov. Rick Perry lags in the poll, which was conducted before Tuesday night’s combative debate in Las Vegas.

In that two-hour forum, several candidates sharply criticized Cain’s tax proposals, and a newly energized Perry hit Romney hard on immigration.

In the poll, Romney was the choice of 30 percent of Republicans, with Cain about even at 26 percent. Perry was preferred by 13 percent, and Rep. Ron Paul of Texas topped the list of those in single digits.

Among all adults surveyed, half said Obama should not be re-elected, and 46 percent said he should be. That continues his gradual slide since May.

When all adults are asked about hypothetical head-to-head matchups, Obama and Romney run almost even, 48 percent for Obama to 45 percent. Obama holds a narrow edge over Cain, 49 percent to 43 percent. He leads Perry, 51 percent to 42 percent.

Luis Calderon of El Monte, Calif., exemplifies those unhappy with Obama but not ready to dump him.

“Even though I criticize him, I still want him to win,” said Calderon, 56, a self-employed handyman who was laid off by an oil company three years ago. Obama “has to get down to business, forget about promises, just do it, create jobs,” Calderon said. “But in order to create jobs, he has to be harder on the Republicans.”

A Democrat, Calderon said Romney “is the one that may do a little dent on Obama.”

Romney spent four years as Massachusetts governor, and he ran for president in 2008. Cain is the only candidate who has never held elected office, which might present some problems. Americans have no recent history of electing inexperienced politicians as president except war hero Dwight Eisenhower.

Of the Republicans polled, about four in 10 say they’re less inclined to vote for someone who has never been elected to public office. That’s far more than say they are disinclined to vote for a Mormon, a woman or a black candidate.

Romney and former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman are Mormons. Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota is the only woman in the race. Cain is black.

Nineteen percent of Republicans, and 21 percent of all adults, say they are less likely to vote for someone who is a Mormon. Anne Fish, a Republican and retired teacher from Columbus, Ohio, is among them. Fish, 73, said she would not support Romney “because he is not a Christian.”

Mainstream Mormons, including Romney, consider themselves Christians.

Fish said she probably will support Perry. “Although I have some doubts, I think he has some ideas about how to improve the economy, how to help our country develop more jobs,” she said.

Ronald Wilson, a conservative Republican from Bucyrus, Ohio, said he’s undecided, although “I favor Herman Cain. He’s not infected by Washingtonitis.”

Wilson, 65, a retired stone quarry worker, called Romney “better than nothing.”

Such comments underscore Romney’s challenge. Many GOP insiders see him as the most plausible nominee and Obama’s strongest potential challenger. But Romney generates little passion among Republican voters, who seem to keep shopping for an alternative as time ticks down to the Jan. 3 Iowa caucuses.

None of the candidates has begun heavy television advertising, which Romney and Perry in particular can afford.

Perry has positioned himself to the right of Romney on several issues, but he’s having trouble breaking through with conservative voters. Nearly three in five Republicans say they see Perry as conservative, but only 26 percent say he’s “strongly conservative.” Cain gets about the same “strongly conservative” marks, while 17 percent of Republicans give Romney that label.

Among conservative Republicans, Romney is the choice of 28 percent, Cain 27 percent and Perry 15 percent. Ten percent of conservatives say they’re not sure whom they’d like to see win the party’s nod.

Tea party supporters split 33 percent for Cain to 29 percent for Romney and 13 percent for Perry.

Gene O’Dor, a retired postal worker from Mobile, Ala., said he likes Romney’s somewhat centrist leanings.

“I think he is a moderate, like I am,” said O’Dor, 66. “I feel he has the background in business to get this country back to where it needs to be.”

“I don’t think he is going to be a person that lies to the American public,” O’Dor said.

Benjamin Matzke, a video editor from Nicollet, Minn., is among those Republicans that Romney has yet to persuade.

“He really to me looks a lot like a career politician,” said Matske, 27. He said Romney “seems to pay lip service to a lot of things that I feel are important,” including abortion, but “his stance on health care is a little soft.”

There seems to be a broad gender divide in the Republican contest. Among GOP women, Romney is favored over his nearest competitor, Cain, by 17 percentage points, with the rest of the field in single digits. The picture is more muddled among Republican men: 31 percent favor Cain, 26 percent Romney, 17 percent Perry, 10 percent Paul, and the rest are each 5 percent or below.

Among all adults, regardless of party identification, 21 percent say they’d like the GOP to nominate Romney. Eighteen percent name Cain, 13 percent Perry and 11 percent Paul.

The poll found shifts in candidates’ favorability ratings. These numbers don’t necessarily track people’s likelihood to vote for or against someone, but they offer insight into how candidates are being received as they become better known.

Romney, Cain and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich have gotten positive bumps since August. Romney and Cain are the only GOP contenders viewed favorably by more than 40 percent of all adults.

Romney’s favorable rating has risen 10 points among all adults since August, and now stands at 49 percent. Increases came across party lines, but especially among conservative Republicans.

Cain’s favorability rating among Republicans has nearly doubled as he has spent more time in the spotlight, increasing from 37 percent favorable in August to 71 percent favorable now. Just 10 percent of Republicans hold a negative impression of him. Party insiders will watch for signs that Tuesday’s hard-hitting debate might wound Cain a bit.

Obama’s favorability ratings are essentially unchanged since August, with 54 percent of adults holding a favorable view of him, and 44 percent unfavorable.

The Associated Press-GfK Poll was conducted Oct. 13-17, by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cellphone interviews with 1,000 adults nationwide, and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. The poll included interviews with 431 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents; the margin of error for these results was plus or minus 6.1 percentage points.

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Associated Press writers Nancy Benac and Stacy Anderson and News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.

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Online:

Poll details: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com

 

How the poll was conducted

 

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Associated Press-GfK Poll on the 2012 election and candidates was conducted by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications from Oct. 13-17. It is based on landline and cellphone telephone interviews with a nationally representative random sample of 1,000 adults, including interviews with 431 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents. Interviews were conducted with 700 respondents on landline telephones and 300 on cellular phones.

Digits in the phone numbers dialed were generated randomly to reach households with unlisted and listed landline and cellphone numbers.

Interviews were conducted in both English and Spanish.

As is done routinely in surveys, results were weighted, or adjusted, to ensure that responses accurately reflect the population’s makeup by factors such as age, sex, education and race. In addition, the weighting took into account patterns of phone use — landline only, cell only and both types — by region.

No more than one time in 20 should chance variations in the sample cause the results to vary by more than plus or minus 4 percentage points from the answers that would be obtained if all adults in the U.S. were polled. The margin of error for Republicans and Republican-leaning independents is plus or minus 6.1 percentage points.

There are other sources of potential error in polls, including the wording and order of questions.

The questions and results are available at http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com .

 

Topline results are available at http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com and http://surveys.ap.org.

Kayla Mueller’s brother: Swap with Taliban raised IS demands

PRESCOTT, Ariz. (AP) — The brother of an American woman who was killed after spending months as a hostage of Islamic State militants says Kayla Mueller’s situation worsened after the government traded five Taliban commanders for a captive U.S. soldier.

The militants increased their demands after the May swap for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, Eric Mueller told NBC’s “Today” in an interview that aired Monday.

“That made the whole situation worse because that’s when the demands got greater,” he said. “They got larger. They realized that they had something.”

Mueller’s death was confirmed Feb. 10 by her family and U.S. officials. The Islamic State group claimed she died in a Jordanian airstrike, but U.S. officials have not confirmed that. The Pentagon said it didn’t know how she was killed.

The 26-year-old international aid worker, who grew up in Prescott, Arizona, was captured in August 2013 after leaving a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Aleppo, Syria.

Mueller’s brother and parents spoke to “Today” host Savannah Guthrie. The family has declined repeated requests for an interview with The Associated Press.

Mueller’s father, Carl Mueller, said that the United States’ willingness to swap for Bergdahl but not pay ransom or allow ransom to be paid for his daughter “was pretty hard to take.”

“I actually asked the president that question when we were in the White House,” he said without elaborating.

Mueller’s parents said in the interview that the U.S. government put policy ahead of American lives.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday that the Mueller family had been put in a difficult position by the U.S. policy against making concessions to terrorists, but he defended it as being in the best interests of the nation.

“The president is confident that his administration did do everything that was possible within the confines of that policy — using our military might, using our intelligence capability, using our diplomatic influence — to try to secure the safe release and return of Kayla Mueller,” Earnest said.

A recent Associated Press-GfK poll found that only 3 in 10 Americans think the United States should pay a ransom to save an American hostage overseas, even if it’s the only way to rescue the hostage. A quarter of Americans say there are circumstances when the United States should directly negotiate with a terrorist group.

The poll of 1,045 adults was conducted online Jan. 29-Feb. 2. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

The Obama administration has defended the Bergdahl swap. Some U.S. lawmakers were outraged by the exchange of five Taliban commanders held at the Guantanamo Bay prison for the Idaho native who left his post in Afghanistan and was captured and held by the Taliban for five years.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff unanimously supported the exchange, insisting that the United States has a sacred commitment to men and women who serve that it never will leave anyone behind on the battlefield.


AP-GfK Poll: Most back Obama plan to raise investment taxes

WASHINGTON (AP) — The rich aren’t taxed enough and the middle class is taxed too much. As for your taxes, you probably think they’re too high as well.

Those are the results of an Associated Press-GfK poll that found that most people in the United States support President Barack Obama’s proposal to raise investment taxes on high-income families.

The findings echo the populist messages of two liberal senators — Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont — being courted by the progressive wing of the Democratic Party to run for president in 2016. The results also add weight to Obama’s new push to raise taxes on the rich and use some of the revenue to lower taxes on the middle class.

Obama calls his approach “middle-class economics.”

It’s not flying with Republicans in Congress, who oppose higher taxes.

But Bob Montgomery of Martinsville, Virginia, said people with higher incomes should pay more.

“I think the more you make the more taxes you should pay,” said Montgomery, who is retired after working 40 years at an auto dealership. “I can’t see where a man makes $50,000 a year pays as much taxes as somebody that makes $300,000 a year.”

According to the poll, 68 percent of those questioned said wealthy households pay too little in federal taxes; only 11 percent said the wealthy pay too much.

Also, 60 percent said middle-class households pay too much in federal taxes, while 7 percent said they paid too little.

Obama laid out a series of tax proposals as part of his 2016 budget released this month. Few are likely to win approval in the Republican-controlled Congress. But if fellow Democrats were to embrace his ideas, they could play a role in the 2016 race.

One proposal would increase capital gains taxes on households making more than $500,000. In the survey, 56 percent favored the proposal, while only 16 percent opposed it.

Democrats, at 71 percent, were the most likely to support raising taxes on capital gains. Among Republicans and independents, 46 percent supported it.

Obama’s other tax plans didn’t fare as well.

About 27 percent said they favored making estates pay capital gains taxes on assets when they are inherited, and 36 percent opposed it.

Just 19 percent said they supported the president’s aborted plan to scale back the tax benefits of popular college savings plans, 529 accounts, named after a section in federal tax law. Obama withdrew the proposal after Republicans and some Democrats in Congress opposed it.

“I think that’s a poor idea,” said Jamie Starr of suburban Atlanta. “Being that I’m a mother of five children, that is a wonderful program.”

“That’s kids trying to make their own away in this world without having student loans,” she said.

Obama’s proposal to levy a new tax on banks was supported by 47 percent of those surveyed. Only 13 percent opposed it, while 36 percent were undecided.

It’s tax season, that time of the year when people are confronted by their obligations to the government. The poll found that 56 percent of us think our own federal taxes are too high, and 4 percent said they pay too little.

If taxes are increased, a slight majority said the additional money should help pay down the national debt. Using the money to cut other taxes or fund government programs were less popular options.

Republicans, in general, are more likely than Democrats to oppose higher taxes, except when it comes to low-income families.

Only 19 percent of respondents said low-income families pay too little in federal taxes, but there was a significant split between the political parties. Just 10 percent of Democrats said low-income families pay too little, while 33 percent of Republicans said they don’t pay enough.

According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the poorest 20 percent of households paid less than 1 percent of all federal taxes in 2011, the latest year for data. The top 10 percent paid more than half of all federal taxes.

That’s OK, said Sen. Sanders, an independent from Vermont, because wealthy people have seen their incomes soar while the rest of the country’s wages have been much more flat.

“Most people understand that at a time when the rich are becoming much richer, the middle class is continuing to disappear,” Sanders said. “And people also understand that the very wealthy and large corporations are able to take advantage of huge loopholes, which enable them not to pay their fair share of taxes.”

Obama has been pushing to raise taxes on the rich since his first campaign for president in 2008. He has had some success. In January 2013, Obama persuaded Republicans in Congress to let income tax rates go up for families making more than $450,000 a year. It was part of a deal that made permanent a large package of tax cuts first enacted under Republican President George W. Bush.

Some liberals are looking for a candidate to push for higher taxes on the rich in the 2016 race. Sanders and Democrat Warren would fit the profile, though Warren says she is not running for president and Sanders says he has not made up his mind.

Among Democrats, Hillary Rodham Clinton is seen as the front-runner for the nomination; she has yet to make her candidacy official.

Clinton hasn’t offered specifics on how she would approach taxes as a candidate. But she offered a glimpse of her views following Obama’s State of the Union Address in January, when she tweeted that Obama “pointed way to an economy that works for all. Now we need to step up & deliver for the middle class. #FairShot #FairShare.”

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The AP-GfK Poll of 1,045 adults was conducted online Jan. 29-Feb. 2, 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 3.5 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.

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Online:

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

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Follow Stephen Ohlemacher on Twitter: http://twitter.com/stephenatap