By CALVIN WOODWARD and JENNIFER AGIESTA, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama and lawmakers must rise above their incessant bickering and do more to end the partial government shutdown, according to a poll Wednesday that places the brunt of the blame on Republicans but finds no one standing tall in Washington.

“So frustrating,” Martha Blair, 71, of Kerrville, Texas, said of the fiscal paralysis as her scheduled national parks vacation sits in limbo. “Somebody needs to jerk those guys together to get a solution, instead of just saying ‘no.’”

The Associated Press-GfK survey affirms expectations by many in Washington — Republicans among them — that the GOP may end up taking the biggest hit in public opinion from the shutdown, as happened when much of the government closed 17 years ago. But the situation is fluid nine days into the shutdown and there’s plenty of disdain to go around.

Overall, 62 percent mainly blamed Republicans for the shutdown. About half said Obama or the Democrats in Congress bear much responsibility.

Most Americans consider the shutdown a serious problem for the country, the poll finds, though more than four in five have felt no personal effect. For those who have, thwarted vacations and a honeymoon at shuttered national parks, difficulty getting work done without federal contacts on the job and hitches in government benefits were among the complaints.

Asked if she blamed Obama, House Republicans, Senate Democrats or the tea party for the shutdown, Blair, an independent, said yes, you bet. All of them. She’s paid to fly with a group to four national parks in Arizona and California next month and says she can’t get her money back or reschedule if the parks remain closed. “I’m concerned,” she said, “but it seems kind of trivial to people who are being shut out of work.”

The poll found that the tea party is more than a gang of malcontents in the political landscape, as its supporters in Congress have been portrayed by Democrats. Rather, it’s a sizable — and divisive — force among Republicans. More than 4 in 10 Republicans identified with the tea party and were more apt than other Republicans to insist that their leaders hold firm in the standoff over reopening government and avoiding a default of the nation’s debt in coming weeks.

Most Americans disapprove of the way Obama is handling his job, the poll suggests, with 53 percent unhappy with his performance and 37 percent approving of it. Congress is scraping rock bottom, with a ghastly approval rating of 5 percent.

Indeed, anyone making headlines in the dispute has earned poor marks for his or her trouble, whether it’s Democrat Harry Reid, the Senate majority leader, or Republican John Boehner, the House speaker, both with a favorability rating of 18 percent.

And much of the country draws a blank on Republican Ted Cruz of Texas despite his 21-hour Senate speech before the shutdown. Only half in the poll were familiar enough with him to register an opinion. Among those who did, 32 percent viewed him unfavorably, 16 percent favorably.

Tom Moore, 69, of Syracuse, N.Y., a retired electronics executive and Republican-leaning independent, said the GOP has made some good points, badly. The idea of delaying the health care law’s individual insurance mandate for a year, for example, strikes him as reasonable, but not when such demands come from hard-liners like Cruz.

“I think the Republicans have done a very poor job of communicating their mission,” he said. “They’ve been ostracized for trying to bring reality to our budgets.”

But he’s not in tune with the animosity many Republicans exhibit toward the president. Obama, he said, is a compassionate, reasonable and likable man who has set the wrong priorities — “a social mission” — in a time begging for economic renewal.

Comparisons could not be drawn conclusively with how people viewed leaders before the shutdown because the poll was conducted online, while previous AP-GfK surveys were done by telephone. Some changes may be due to the new methodology, not shifts in opinion. The poll provides a snapshot of public opinion starting in the third day of the shutdown.

The poll comes with both sides dug in and trading blame while an unprecedented national default approaches if nothing is done to raise the debt limit. Obama invited all 232 House GOP lawmakers to the White House on Thursday — Republicans said 18 would come. His meeting with congressional leaders last week produced no results. Obama is insisting Republicans reopen government and avert default before any negotiations on deficit reduction or his 2010 health care law are held.

Among the survey’s findings:

— Sixty-eight percent said the shutdown is a major problem for the country, including majorities of Republicans (58 percent), Democrats (82 percent) and independents (57 percent).

— Fifty-two percent said Obama is not doing enough to cooperate with Republicans to end the shutdown; 63 percent say Republicans aren’t doing enough to cooperate with him.

— Republicans are split on just how much cooperation they want. Among those who do not back the tea party, fully 48 percent say their party should be doing more with Obama to find a solution. But only 15 percent of tea-party Republicans want that outreach. The vast majority of them say GOP leaders are doing what they should with the president, or should do even less with him.

— People seem conflicted or confused about the showdown over the debt limit. Six in 10 predict an economic crisis if the government’s ability to borrow isn’t renewed later this month with an increase in the debt limit — an expectation widely shared by economists. Yet only 30 percent say they support raising the limit; 46 percent were neutral on the question.

In Mount Prospect, Ill., Barbara Olpinski, 51, a Republican who blames Obama and both parties for the shutdown, said her family is already seeing an impact and that will worsen if the impasse goes on. She’s an in-home elderly care director, her daughter is a physician’s assistant at a rural clinic that treats patients who rely on government coverage, and her husband is a doctor who can’t get flu vaccines for patients on public assistance because deliveries have stopped.

“People don’t know how they are going to pay for things, and what will be covered,” she said. “Everybody is kind of like holding their wallets.”

Moore traveled to Las Vegas with his wife and Florida relatives hoping to see Red Rock Canyon, only to find the national conservation area closed. Instead they went to Hoover Dam, also a federal property but one that has remained open because it is not financed with congressional appropriations. “Not a catastrophe,” he said, but he doesn’t know when they’ll go again.

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted Oct. 3-7 and involved online interviews with 1,227 adults. The survey has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points for all respondents.

The survey used GfK’s KnowledgePanel, a probability-based Internet panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. Respondents to the survey were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods, and were later interviewed for this survey online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t have online access were given that access at no cost to them.

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Online:

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

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Associated Press writer Stacy A. Anderson and News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.

AP-GfK Poll: Crunch time again for health insurance sign-ups

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.

 

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Associated Press Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.

 


AP-GfK Poll: Nearly 9 in 10 doubt Obama, GOP can break gridlock

WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans may not agree on much lately, but one opinion is nearly universal: There’s almost no chance that President Barack Obama, a Democrat, and the Republican Congress can work together to solve the country’s problems.

A new Associated Press-GfK poll finds just 13 percent of Americans are confident the leaders, separated by nearly 2 miles of Pennsylvania Avenue, can work together, while 86 percent have no such faith. That’s far more than the 58 percent who felt that way just after the 2010 midterm elections in which the tea party movement rose to prominence.

The doubts cross party lines: Fewer than 1 in 5 Democrats or independents have confidence the two sides can cooperate. Republicans are even more pessimistic, with just 1 in 10 confident Obama and Congress can work together.

Those who lack confidence spread the blame around: 41 percent say neither side would do enough to work together, 35 percent place more blame on the Republicans, 22 percent on the president.

Neither side holds much hope things are going to get better, either. Just 16 percent think the president is likely to restore public trust in government in the next two years, while 20 percent feel congressional Republicans will.

Robert Cole, 65, says both Democrats and Republicans deserve blame for Washington’s stalemate: “If you want to place the blame, it rests on the American voter.”

“They’re not doing their jobs, and we as the electorate are stupid in sending the same people back and expecting things to change,” said Cole, a retiree who lives in Ocala, Florida.

But not everyone sees cooperation as a positive.

“In my view, the Republicans were doing what they needed to do to block a harmful agenda coming from the executive branch,” said Ron Tykoski, 42, a paleontologist from Nevada, Texas.

What does the public think they’ll be able to do?

A majority say Obama is likely to prevent Congress from repealing the health care law passed in 2010, while nearly half say the GOP is likely to block Obama’s executive order on immigration. Another 42 percent think the GOP will block or roll back Obama’s environmental regulations. Fewer think either side will be able to enact the policies on their agenda.

Tamara Watson, 35, a high school teacher in West Columbia, South Carolina, said immigration and health care are the two issues where both sides do need to work together. She sees Republicans as the bigger roadblock.

“They have fought him his entire term and a half now, and there’s so many of them now,” she said. “It’s going to be very difficult for (Obama) to work with them when there are so many of them versus so few of his party.”

Political gridlock itself ranks pretty low on the issue scale, 47 percent call it extremely or very important compared with 83 percent who say the economy is important, 76 percent who consider health care a key issue and 64 percent who say unemployment is important.

But the issue prompts Obama’s most negative ratings overall: 66 percent disapprove of his handling of gridlock and among Democrats, 47 percent disapprove.

Approval ratings for the president and Congress are about the same as before the election, with 41 percent approval for Obama and 15 percent Congress. In general, however, the public expresses greater frustration with politics now than they did four years ago.

Looking back on last month’s elections, 52 percent say they’re disappointed with the results while 50 percent say they’re frustrated. Both figures are up significantly since 2010. About a quarter, 27 percent, say they’re angry, compared with 16 percent in 2010.

Just 37 percent say they’re hopeful when they think about the results of the elections, well below the 65 percent saying so after the 2010 elections, when the GOP took control of the House of Representatives, or the 74 percent who felt so when Obama was elected the nation’s first black president. Only 1 in 5 Americans under age 30 describe themselves as hopeful, fewer than any other age group.

More Americans say they trust neither party to handle managing the federal government than said they trust either side over the other. Nearly a third of both Democrats and Republicans say they trust neither party to handle managing the federal government, along with almost 6 in 10 independents.

But Cole says this hasn’t turned him away from politics.

“As aggravating as it is, I’m still paying attention just to see if I can find somebody out there who is going to do more than talk about cooperating and find a way forward,” he said.

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.

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On Twitter, follow Jennifer Agiesta at http://www.twitter.com/JennAgiesta and Emily Swanson at http://www.twitter.com/el_swan .

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Online:

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