By TOM RAUM, Associated Press

 WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama’s approval ratings for handling foreign policy issues generally top his ratings for most domestic issues, including the economy and health care, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll. But the poll also suggests a majority of Americans want the president to pull troops out of Afghanistan faster than he’s doing, and many are skeptical about a tentative nuclear deal with Iran.

 The poll found that 57 percent now say going to war in Afghanistan after the 2001 terror attacks was probably the “wrong thing to do.” And 53 percent say the pace of the planned withdrawal is too slow, 34 percent said the pace was just about right and 10 percent said it was too fast. All combat troops are scheduled to leave by the end of 2014.

 Meanwhile, six in 10 Americans approve of the preliminary deal between Iran and six global powers to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions. But that support is soft and many doubt it will lead to concrete results.

Even though he garners more disapproval than approval on the handling of Afghanistan and Iran, Obama generally gets better ratings on foreign policy than on domestic issues.

Nearly half (49 percent) approve of his handling of U.S. relations with other countries while 50 percent disapprove. In contrast, just 40 percent approve of his handling of the economy, while 59 percent disapprove. And on health care, the approval rating stands at 39 percent, with 61 percent disapproving. His overall job approval is at 42 percent, with 58 disapproving.

The slightly higher ratings on foreign policy generally make sense, suggested Philip Salathe, 70, of Indianapolis, who participated in the poll.

Salathe said Obama in 2008 ran against Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who during the campaign joked about dropping bombs on Iran. “I figure we could fix the economy if it gets ruined and we can repeal any bad laws that get passed,” Salathe said, but a military confrontation with Iran or other foreign policy crisis could have more disastrous consequences.

Salathe approves of the job Obama is doing overall but still thinks things are headed in the wrong direction. “We’re not doing anything about the major problems facing humanity. Basically, we have a number of disparate goals that are at odds with each other,” such as protecting the environment while promoting growth and urban development. He said Obama is the first Democrat he’s voted for as president. He said he tends to favor Republicans.

Just 16 percent of those polled said they expected the situation in Afghanistan to “get better” over the next year; 32 percent said they expected it to “get worse” while about half said they expected the situation to “stay about the same.”

Jennifer Reese, 28, of Burnsville, Minn., considers herself a Democrat and says she voted for Obama. But she questions whether he’s the cause for the economy getting better.

“I think the economy is getting better, but I don’t think it’s necessarily because of what Obama’s doing,” she said. “That’s the way things work. When things go down so far, then they’re going to go back up.”

She said she also believes both parties could do an equally good job protecting the country and that the pace of allied troop withdrawal from Afghanistan is “about right.” She favors a continued presence of allied troops in the country to train and assist Afghan troops. “My family was in the military. My father was over there for a while and he says they’re doing good things.”

As for negotiations with Iran on curbing its nuclear program, Reese says she is pleased Iran is at the bargaining table. “Let’s negotiate this, see what we can do,” she said.

The poll showed Americans broadly approve of a tentative deal to curb Iran’s nuclear program. Fifty-nine percent approved, 38 percent disapproved.

But that support was tentative, with more than 4 in 10 (44 percent) also saying it’s unlikely the agreement will keep Iran from seeking to build its own nuclear weapon. Just 11 percent think that outcome is extremely or very likely.

Mark Dabney, 54, of Cartersville, Ga., who describes himself as a political independent who supports the tea party movement, disapproves of Obama’s performance on both domestic and foreign policy fronts.

As for Iraq and Afghanistan, “I just believe that we shouldn’t go meddling in other countries’ internal affairs,” he said.

The AP-GfK poll was conducted Dec. 5-9 using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based online panel. For results based on all 1,367 adults, the margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

KnowledgePanel is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods, and later, completed this survey online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have Internet access were provided with access at no cost.

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Associated Press Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta and AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.

Online:

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

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Follow Tom Raum on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/tomraum

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