By SUE MANNING, Associated Press

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Just over half of American pet owners will buy gifts for their pets this holiday season, and they’ll spend an average of $46 on their animals, with toys and treats topping the list, according to a new AP-Petside.com poll.

Sixty-eight percent of pets getting gifts can look forward to a toy, 45 percent to food or another treat, 8 percent new bedding, 6 percent clothing, 3 percent a leash, collar or harness and 3 percent new grooming products, the poll showed. (Some pets will get more than one gift.)

“Christmas is about the pets,” said Gayla McCarthy, 58, of Kekaha, Hawaii, whose Australian shepherd, Echo, will find a toy under the tree. McCarthy even got a shirt for her husband as a gift to him from the dog, and she’ll be giving collapsible bowls that she ordered online to all their friends’ dogs.

Although the average budget for pet gifts among those surveyed was $46, 72 percent of those polled said they’d spend $30 or less. Those who bought gifts for their pets last year said they spent $41 on average.

Overall, 51 percent of those polled this year said they would buy holiday gifts for their pets, a figure that’s been relatively stable in the last few AP-Petside.com polls. It was 53 percent last year, 52 percent in 2009 and 43 percent in 2008.

Income does matter. Those making $50,000 or more say they plan to spend an average $57 on their pets. Those making under $50,000 say it will be $29.

Major pet retailers have been taking part in the Black Friday and Cyber Monday frenzy for a few years. Petco Animal Supplies Inc. plans a 72-hour “Black Friday Weekend Blowout,” said Greg Seremetis, vice president of marketing.

Products for both pets and pet owners will be available, he said. “Including pets in holiday gift-giving has been a growing trend in the last few years. More and more pets are being treated as family members and being included in holiday traditions, including having a gift waiting for them under the tree,” he said.

PetSmart Inc. plans to open stores at 7 a.m. on Black Friday, then continue with a “Countdown to Christmas” sale, said spokeswoman Stephanie Foster.

Online retailer Foster & Smith Inc. plans a live, streaming, four-hour (11 a.m. – 3 p.m. EST) webcast full of sales and giveaways on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, spokesman Gordon Magee said. “As far as we know, with the exception of QVC …, no other retailer has done a live broadcast like this on Black Friday and Cyber Monday,” Magee said. “We are going to give it a go.”

Younger pet owners are more apt to say they’ll buy their pet a holiday gift, including 56 percent of pet owners under age 50. Among those ages 50-64, it’s 47 percent, and among seniors, 39 percent, the poll showed.

Lauren Beard, 22, of Felton, Pa., and her family lavished their dog Groovy with gifts last year — including treats and bones — because it was the chocolate lab’s first Christmas. “We still love her but it’s a little less exciting this year,” Beard said. So she reduced her budget of $70 last year to $50, and hopes to get some things on sale. She’ll also buy a gift for Groovy’s best friend and neighbor, a golden retriever named Tessie, Beard said.

Ronda Singleton and her husband live in Elk, Wash., and raise and show standard poodles. But they don’t plan to get gifts for their dogs or for each other. “If we need something, we go get it,” she explained, adding that the dogs get treats all the time. She and her husband like to celebrate holidays with traditional dinners and church services.

Thomas Koch, 69, in Raleigh, N.C., has something special to celebrate this year — adoption of his adult son should be finalized, he said.

The two will spend the holidays with their dog, Jessie, a Sheltie-chow mix, and two cats, Tanz and Callie.

Last year, Jessie got toys and the cats got play mice and a large bag of catnip. “They liked it so much we just threw it on the carpet and let them roll in it,” Koch said.

He covered the goodies last year for a mere $8, but is setting aside $10 this year just in case prices have gone up.

George Smith, 43, a father of three in Adams County, Colo., says pets are “part of the family, just like our kids.” But they keep the holiday gifts for Miley, a golden retriever, and Zippity, a cat, low-key: no fancy wrapping or stockings, just $10 worth of toys and treats.

Steve Gottula’s budget was $100 last year and he figures it will run about the same this year for his two dogs and seven cats. Odie, a dachshund, and Sky, a Dalmatian, will get special bones, and the cats will get catnip and mouse balls.

Gottula, 48, his wife Leigh (she’s the one who brings home the strays) and five kids (ages 6 to 16) live with the nine pets in Spring, Texas.

His daughters have made stockings for the pets — with their initials — and they are always part of holiday celebrations, Gottula said.

“The cats like to play with the paper and ribbon and get lost in the boxes and wrappings,” he said.

What do his pets mean to him? “They are entertaining, they are companions. They have little senses of humor. They all have personalities. If you give love to them they give it back — it’s unconditional,” he said.

The AP-Petside.com Poll was conducted Oct. 13-17 by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cellphone interviews with 1,118 pet owners. Results among all pet owners have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.

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Deputy Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.

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Online:

http://petside.com/gifts2011

 

 

How the poll was conducted

 

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Associated Press-Petside.com Poll of pet owners on holiday gifts for their pets 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 1,118 pet owners.

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 3.6 percentage points from the answers that would be obtained if all pet owners in the U.S. were polled.

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: No agreement on how to pay for highways

By JOAN LOWY and JENNIFER AGIESTA, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Small wonder Congress has kept federal highway and transit programs teetering on the edge of insolvency for years, unable to find a politically acceptable long-term source of funds. The public can’t make up its mind on how to pay for them either.

Six in 10 Americans think the economic benefits of good highways, railroads and airports outweigh the cost to taxpayers. Yet there is scant support for some of the most frequently discussed options for paying for construction of new roads or the upkeep of existing ones, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll.

Among those who drive places multiple times per week, 62 percent say the benefits outweigh the costs. Among those who drive less than once a week or not at all, 55 percent say the costs of road improvement are worthwhile.

Yet a majority of all Americans — 58 percent — oppose raising federal gasoline taxes to fund transportation projects such as the repair, replacement or expansion of roads and bridges. Only 14 percent support an increase. And by a better than 2-to-1 margin, Americans oppose having private companies pay for construction of new roads and bridges in exchange for the right to charge tolls. Moving to a usage tax based on how many miles a vehicle drives also draws more opposition than support — 40 percent oppose it, while 20 percent support it.

Support for shifting more responsibility for paying for such projects to state and local government is a tepid 30 percent.

“Congress is actually reflecting what people want,” said Joshua Schank, president and CEO of the Eno Center for Transportation, a transportation think tank. “People want to have a federal (transportation) program and they don’t want to pay for it.”

Last week, Congress cobbled together $10.8 billion to keep transportation aid flowing to states by changing how employers fund worker pension programs, extending customs user fees and transferring money from a fund to repair leaking underground fuel storage tanks. The money was needed to make up a shortfall between aid promised to states and revenue raised by the federal 18.4 cents-per-gallon gas tax and the 24.4 cents-per-gallon diesel tax, which haven’t been increased in more than 20 years.

It’s the fifth time in the last six years that Congress has patched a hole in the federal Highway Trust Fund that pays for highway and transit aid. Each time it gets more difficult for lawmakers to find the money without increasing the federal budget deficit. Critics described the pension funding changes used this time as budget gimmicks that would cost the government more in the long run and undermine employee pension programs.

The latest patch cleared Congress about three hours before midnight last Thursday, the day before the Transportation Department said it would begin cutting back aid payments to states. The current fix is only expected to cover the revenue gap through next May, when Congress will be back where it started unless lawmakers act sooner.

The most direct solution would be to raise fuel taxes. That’s what three blue-ribbon federal commissions have recommended. But opposition to a gas tax increase cuts across party lines, although Republicans are more apt to oppose an increase, 70 percent, than Democrats, 52 percent.

“Every time we turn around there’s another tax, and our gas taxes are so high now,” said James Lane, 52, of Henry County in rural south-central Virginia, who described himself as leaning toward the GOP.

Lane favors allowing companies to pay for the construction of new or expanded roads and bridges in exchange for the right impose tolls on motorists, often for many decades. There have been projects like that in Virginia, but since those roads are in more populated areas of the state where he doesn’t drive it makes sense to have the people who use them pay for them, he said.

But Michael Murphy, 63, a data services contractor who lives near San Antonio, Texas, where a high-speed public-private toll road is scheduled to open this fall, said he’d rather see gas taxes increased than tolls imposed on drivers. Roads benefit everyone, even if indirectly, so it’s only fair that everyone who drives pays something toward their cost, he said.

A majority of those surveyed, 56 percent, say traffic in the area where they live has gotten worse in the last five years. Only 6 percent say traffic has improved in their area, and 33 percent that it’s stayed about the same.

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted July 24-28 using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based online panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,044 adults. It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points for all respondents, larger for subgroups.

Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods, and were 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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Online:

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

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Follow Joan Lowy on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/AP_Joan_Lowy


AP-GfK poll: Americans ready to close the book on wars in Iraq, Afghanistan

By DEB RIECHMANN, Associated Press

 WASHINGTON (AP) — Three in four Americans think history will judge the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as failures, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll that shows that about the same percentage think it was right to pull forces from the two countries.

Americans surveyed in last month’s poll were not optimistic about the chance that a stable democratic government will be established in either country. Seventy-eight percent said it was either not too likely or not at all likely in Afghanistan and 80 percent said the same about Iraq.

Roughly three out of four Americans polled think that in hindsight, each war will be deemed as an outright “complete failure” or “more of a failure than success.”

A majority of those polled, or 70 percent, said the United States was right to withdraw American troops from Iraq in 2011 and pull most U.S. forces out of Afghanistan by December. The two conflicts have consumed the nation for more than a decade and claimed the lives of 6,800 U.S. troops.

Nelson Philip, 73, of Oswego, Illinois, is of two minds. He judges the Afghan war a failure, but wants U.S. troops to stay in countries that remain in turmoil.

“What’s so successful about it? We didn’t do anything there. The Taliban. They’re still there. We haven’t done anything and now we’re pulling everybody out of there,” Philip said. “And now this Islamic group is over there taking over Iraq.”

The situations in Afghanistan and Iraq are distinct. But in each, the U.S. has spent more than a decade trying to set up democratic governments that could effectively police their own territories and stamp out threats to the American homeland. And in both countries that objective is in peril — their futures threatened by a combination of poor leadership, weak institutions, interethnic rivalry, insurgencies and extremist rebellions.

Americans surveyed in the poll think more bad news is on the horizon.

Fifty percent — up 18 points in the past seven months — think the situation in Afghanistan will get worse. Fifty-eight percent — up from 16 percent in December 2009 — expect conditions in Iraq will worsen. The poll was conducted shortly after Sunni extremists conducted an offensive that shattered security in Iraq.

The rapid advance by the extremist Islamic State group, which captured Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, and overran much of northern and western Iraq, has plunged the country into its worst crisis since the withdrawal of U.S. troops at the end of 2011.

Melody Fisher, a 58-year-old midwife from Prescott, Ariz., was among the roughly 25 percent who didn’t think it was time yet for American troops to return from Afghanistan, where about 2,340 U.S. servicemen and women have been killed. She said she wasn’t convinced that the U.S. had finished its work there.

“I used to work with refuges so I’m very aware of the conditions that people have to live in,” said Fisher, a midwife who spent time helping resettle Cambodian refugees. “Our country, our nation, has no idea about the day-to-day things that people have to go through in many places.”

People over 50 expressed far more pessimism about the ultimate outcome of the two conflicts than their younger counterparts.

Sixty-two percent of those over 50 said the situation in Afghanistan would get worse in the coming year, compared with 40 percent of younger Americans. On Iraq, that gap is even larger, with 72 percent age 50 or older expecting things to get worse compared with 47 percent of those under age 50.

Older Americans also are more likely to think the U.S. war in Afghanistan will be judged a failure in the future; 86 percent of those 50 or older feel that way, compared with 64 percent among those under age 50. They are also more likely to doubt that a stable democratic government will be established there; 88 percent age 50 or older say it’s unlikely to happen compared with 70 percent age 18 to 49.

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted July 24-28, 2014 using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based online panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,044 adults, and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points for all respondents. It is larger for subgroups.

Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods, and were 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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Associated Press director of polling Jennifer Agiesta in Washington contributed to this report.

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Online:

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