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.

AP-GfK Poll: Economy, other issues overshadow abortion

DENVER (AP) — As a season of campaigning enters its final, intense weekend, a new Associated Press-GfK poll illustrates the challenge ahead for candidates and their allies trying to rally voters around traditional wedge issues such as abortion and gay marriage. This fall, voters just have other matters on their minds.

Social issues are eclipsed by concerns about the economy, health care, the Islamic State group and Ebola, the poll finds. And hovering over each of these individual issues is a broad dissatisfaction with President Barack Obama and Republican leaders in Congress.

Only 32 percent of likely voters called gay marriage an important issue, compared with 91 percent ranking the economy important, 78 percent with similar concerns about health care and 74 percent naming Ebola important. The issue that some Democrats have emphasized most of all — abortion rights — also has been a relatively low priority, with only 43 percent of likely voters in a September poll ranking it important.

Yet women’s health and reproductive rights have been at the center of campaigns for U.S. Senate in Alaska, Iowa, North Carolina and especially Colorado. There, half of the ads aired by Democratic Sen. Mark Udall and those backing his re-election have criticized his GOP opponent, Rep. Cory Gardner, on women’s health issues. They include a contention the 40-year-old congressman from eastern Colorado wants to ban some forms of birth control.

“Democrats this year clearly think that all that you need is that silver bullet of social issues,” said Katy Atkinson, a GOP political official in Denver. “It’s not. You need more.”

Gardner may have been able to parry the offensive by proposing that birth control pills be sold over-the-counter, without a prescription. After he began airing an ad on his proposal last month — as security concerns rose amid U.S. military action against the Islamic State group in the Middle East and the West Africa outbreak of the Ebola virus — Gardner moved ahead in public polls.

Gardner isn’t the only Republican to propose the sale of birth control over-the-counter. So, too, have Republicans running for Senate in North Carolina, Virginia and Minnesota.

The issue of access to birth control has also found its way into the Senate race in Iowa, where Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley has hammered his Republican opponent, state Sen. Joni Ernst, for her support of bestowing personhood status on a fetus. He says that would outlaw abortion, in-vitro fertilization and most kinds of contraception; she says she supports access to birth control and abortion in some circumstances.

Some voters have scoffed at the emphasis.

“They do a lot of yapping about how contraceptives have to do a lot with women’s health, which is a load of crap,” said Donald Johnson, 82, a staunch Republican in Clinton, Iowa. “If they want contraception, they can go and get it. It doesn’t cost that much. There’s no reason the government should be paying for it.”

On both abortion and same-sex marriage, recent AP-GfK polling has found likely voters more apt to trust Democrats than Republicans. But on issues that have captured more of voters’ attention this midterm season, such as the economy and protecting the country, Republicans have the advantage.

Republicans have emphasized terrorism and Ebola threats in the campaign’s closing days, though the poll suggests Ebola inspires less of a partisan preference than other issues.

Cindy Nath, a 59-year-old high school teacher in Colorado Springs, is most worried about economic inequality but also has concerns about reproductive freedom. A Democrat, she’s already cast an early ballot for Udall. But the issues her students discuss are very different — the Islamic State group and Ebola. “That’s what they’re talking about,” she said. “ISIS comes up every day.”

Women’s votes have shifted sharply between presidential years and midterm elections in recent contests, according to exit polling conducted for the AP and ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox and NBC. In 2012, women broke for Obama by an 11-point margin, while in 2010, when few candidates raised social issues as a major campaign theme, they split evenly between Democratic and Republican House candidates.

Atkinson noted that social issues usually poll low in priority but can be effective in defining candidates as too extreme. That’s how Democrats have won recently in Colorado. Although polling shows Udall slightly behind, his campaign believes he can win with a superior get-out-the-vote operation and by continuing to use women’s health issues to motivate key voting groups. Democrats are particularly targeting single women, whose participation dips in midterm elections.

The model is Sen. Michael Bennet’s 2010 come-from-behind win, where he similarly focused on women’s health. Still, a gender gap cuts both ways. Several recent polls in Colorado have shown Gardner’s advantage among men outpaces Udall’s among women.

But Jill Hanauer, a Denver-based Democratic strategist, said people should not mistake a temporary issue advantage for something permanent.

“Republicans have immediate issues to run on and Democrats have much broader, long-term ones like climate change and reproductive rights,” Hanauer said. “This election is one point in time, not a long-term trend.”

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted Oct. 16-20, using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,608 adults and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points for all respondents.

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 with the ability to access the Internet at no cost to them.

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Agiesta, AP’s director of polling, reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Stacy A. Anderson and Emily Swanson contributed to this report.

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Online:

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


AP-GfK Poll: 2 of 3 Americans think the threat posed by Islamic State is very important

By DEB RIECHMANN and EMILY SWANSON, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Sixty-five percent of Americans now say the threat from the Islamic State group is very or even extremely important, and nearly half think the U.S. military response in Iraq and Syria has not gone far enough, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll. Most want to see America’s partners step up their contribution to the fight,

Less than half, 43 percent, approve of the way President Barack Obama is handling the danger posed by the extremist militants.

Greg Franke, 24, of Columbia, South Carolina, was among the 55 percent of those who disapproved. Franke, a 24-year-old assistant editor at a research library, said he thought Obama was too hesitant in responding to the militants, who have employed brutal tactics to swiftly seize territory.

“I understand the need to be hesitant, but this was a group that was marching across parts of the Middle East, which is already unstable,” Franke said. “I think it warranted a swift and more decisive response.”

“I also think that his declaration that U.S. troops would not be involved was premature,” he said. “I don’t want U.S. troops involved. But I don’t think we need to close doors.”

A majority, 66 percent, favor the airstrikes the United States has been launching against the militants, yet 65 percent of those surveyed say Obama has not clearly explained America’s goal in fighting the Islamic State group. The president met with his national security team on Friday to discuss the Islamic State and talk via video teleconference with U.S. officials at the American Embassy in Baghdad and consulates in Irbil and Basra.

Here’s a look at the poll:

IS ENOUGH BEING DONE?

Forty-six percent said the U.S. military response has not gone far enough — up from 40 percent in September. Fifty-six percent said the military response from countries that have joined the U.S. in the fight against Islamic State militants has not gone far enough. The U.S. and partner countries, including Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have been bombing Islamic State targets since August.

“It shouldn’t just be us. It shouldn’t just be ‘Oh, the United States is policing.’ It should be everyone is there policing and everybody believes this is wrong and everyone — worldwide — is trying to stop this,” said Kathy Robinson, 24, a Sterling, Virginia, woman who works at an information technology company.

At the same time, she thinks the United States eventually will put troops on the ground in the region “just to make sure nothing starts back up — to keep the peace.”

Only 32 percent think Obama has done a good job in clearly stating U.S. policy against the IS group. More than six in 10 of them think it’s either not likely or only moderately likely that the U.S. and its partners will achieve their goal in fighting IS.

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ARE AMERICANS FOLLOWING DEVELOPMENTS IN IRAQ, SYRIA?

While 47 percent of those surveyed said there’s a very or extremely high risk of another terror attack inside the United States, just a third said they have been keenly following the news about the U.S. military action against IS. An additional 38 percent said they were following the action somewhat closely, and 31 percent said they were keeping up not too closely or not closely at all.

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DO PEOPLE SUPPORT THE AIRSTRIKES?

While Americans support the airstrike, when it comes to supporting the idea of deploying U.S. ground troops, respondents were more guarded.

Thirty-seven percent said they opposed putting American forces on the ground, 33 percent favored the idea and 28 percent said they were neither for nor against it.

Obama has said repeatedly that he has no plans to send ground troops to Iraq or Syria. However, 28 percent thought it was very or extremely likely that he would, and an additional 45 percent thought it was moderately likely. Just 24 percent said it was not likely.

Michael Rainwater, 64, of Sammanish, Washington, doesn’t particularly want to see U.S. troops sent in, but thinks they might be deployed at some point.

“I think all of these things tend to escalate,” he said. “You can’t keep pouring fuel on the fire and expect the fire to get smaller. So every time we bomb or send in armed drones, you are creating more terrorists.”

He does not think, though, that the Islamic State is in a position to mount a 9/11-style attack against the U.S.

Said Rainwater, a retired software company owner: “It is more of a criminal entity because basically what they are doing is kidnapping people for ransom, taking over oil refineries for the income.”

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The AP-GfK Poll was conducted Oct. 16-20 using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,608 adults, and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points for all respondents. Respondents were selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods, and later interviewed. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were given free access.