By RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR and JENNIFER AGIESTA, Associated Press

 WASHINGTON (AP) — Memo to the White House: The website may be fixed, but President Barack Obama’s new health insurance markets have yet to win over most consumers.

Negative perceptions of the health care rollout have eased, a new Associated Press-GfK poll finds. But overall, two-thirds of Americans say things still aren’t going well.

Of those who’ve tried to sign up, or who live with someone who has, 71 percent have encountered problems. But the share reporting success jumped to 40 percent from a meager 24 percent in December.

“Everything is not perfect; it takes time to work out the glitches,” said Carol Lyles, a homecare provider from Los Angeles who was able to get coverage as a result of the law. “If done right, I believe it will provide the services that are needed.

“The poll comes with about 60 days left in open enrollment season. The administration is playing catch-up to meet its goal of signing up 7 million people in new insurance exchanges that offer subsidized private coverage to middle-class households. So far, the markets have attracted an older crowd that tends to be more costly to cover. Younger people in the coveted 18-34 age group are still mainly on the sidelines.

While the poll did not find a turnaround for “Obamacare,” the trend offers some comfort for supporters of the health care law.

In December, 76 percent of adults had said the opening of the new markets was not going well. Such negative perceptions have now fallen 10 points to 66 percent.

Still, rave reviews remain rare.

Only 4 percent said things were going extremely or very well, while another 17 percent said things were going somewhat well.

Compare that to 38 percent who said the rollout had gone not at all well. Another 28 percent said things were not going too well. Add those together and it makes up two-thirds of the public.

“People were locked out of the system,” said Karyle Knowles, a restaurant server from San Antonio. “They weren’t able to access what they should have, which only added to the mayhem.

“The White House had hoped to bring the ease of online shopping to the daunting process of buying health insurance. Instead, the federal website serving 26 states froze up when it was launched Oct. 1. Some of the 14 states running their own sites also encountered problems. It took the better part of two months to straighten out the issues with the federal exchange.

The administration reported Friday that 3 million people have now signed up for private coverage through federal and state markets, and another 6.3 million have been deemed eligible for Medicaid coverage. It’s not clear how many of those were previously uninsured.

According to the poll, many website users have had a frustrating experience. Among those who’ve tried to sign up, just 8 percent say it worked well, 29 percent somewhat well, 53 percent not well.

The public’s take on the law itself is stable, with 27 percent saying they back it, 42 percent opposed and 30 percent neutral. Those figures are unchanged since December.

People who have tried to sign up are more positive than the overall public — 46 percent say they back the law, 31 percent oppose it.But among the uninsured generally, there’s a more even divide, with 30 percent saying they support the law while 33 percent oppose it.

The major elements of the health care law took effect with the new year. Virtually all Americans are now required to get covered or risk fines. Insurers can no longer turn away people with health problems. And the exchanges are open for business.

Enrollment in the Medicaid safety-net program is also rising. That’s partly because of a program expansion accepted by about half the states and partly as a consequence of previously eligible but unenrolled people now forced to comply with the law’s individual coverage mandate. Last week, Utah’s Republican Gov. Gary Herbert said his state plans to become the 26th to accept the expansion.

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted Jan. 17-21 using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based online panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,060 adults, and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points for the full sample.

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.

AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.

AP-GfK Poll: Majority of Americans favor diplomatic ties with Cuba

WASHINGTON (AP) — Nearly three-fourths of Americans think the United States should have diplomatic ties with Cuba, but they’re not sure how far to go in lifting sanctions, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll released Monday as full diplomatic relations between the two countries were formally restored.

“Relations between Cuba and the U.S. I think are long overdue. There’s no threat there,” said Alex Bega, 30, of Los Angeles. “I think the sanctions we have on them are pretty much obsolete.”

The resumption of normal ties ended decades of acrimony between the two nations that was hardened when President John F. Kennedy and Cuba’s Fidel Castro fought over Soviet expansion in the Americas. The new diplomatic status, however, does not erase lingering disputes, such as mutual claims for economic reparations, Havana’s desire to end a more than 50-year-old trade embargo and the U.S. push for Cuba to improve human rights and democracy.

The new poll also found that 58 percent of Americans approve of President Barack Obama’s handling of the U.S. relationship with Havana while 40 disapprove. By contrast, only 39 percent approve of his handling of the U.S. role in world affairs more generally, while 59 percent disapprove.

“I just disapprove of his politics in general,” said Julie Smith, 40, a university administrator from Bowling Green, Kentucky. “I just don’t think that us trying to improve relations with Cuba is beneficial to the United States.”

Respondents were split on what to do about the sanctions on Cuba. Forty-eight percent thought they should be decreased or eliminated entirely while 47 percent favored keeping them at their current level or increasing them. Five percent didn’t answer.

The story was different when it came to Iran.

Seventy-seven percent said they thought sanctions on Tehran should be kept where they are or increased, according to the poll, which was conducted just days before the U.S. signed an agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for economic sanctions relief. Under the agreement, Iran’s nuclear program will be curbed for a decade in exchange for potentially hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of relief from international sanctions.

Mary Barry, 57, of Arlington, Texas, is happy that the Obama administration opened diplomatic efforts with both Cuba and Iran, but is wary about lifting sanctions on the two countries.

“I think we need to have diplomatic relations with Iran and monitor their nuclear weapon,” said Berry, who works producing and staging corporate business meetings. But, she said: “I think we need to keep the sanctions in place on Iran to make sure they’re doing what they’ve promised they’re going to do because I think Iran is a country that you can’t really trust.”

On Cuba, she thinks it’s “just time” to restore diplomatic relations. But she favors a gradual lifting of sanctions on Cuba. “I don’t think they should be lifted immediately,” she said.

There is some momentum in Congress, however, to lift the trade embargo.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., backs a bipartisan bill in the Senate to lift the embargo, which she said must be done for the U.S. to avoid losing investment opportunities that will come with loosening of travel restrictions to the island.

“Once millions of American tourists are going, they will need places to stay and they will need food to eat. … So when they come, they are going to be starting to sleep in Spanish hotels and eat German foods because those countries will be able to supply what they need in the tourism industry, not to mention the computers and Wi-Fi and everything else,” Klobuchar said in an interview.

She predicted the legislation, which has 20 co-sponsors so far, would pass, although maybe not this year. “I know there are some people who have long been opposed to this,” she said.

Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey thinks the Obama administration’s work to restore relations is an attempt to validate the Castro regime’s “brutal behavior.”

“I remain deeply concerned with ongoing human rights violations in Cuba,” Menendez said Monday. “There have been over 2,800 political arrests on the island this year alone.”

The AP-GfK Poll of 1,004 adults was conducted online July 9 to July 13, 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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Online:

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


AP-GfK Poll: Sharp divisions after high court backs gay marriage

NEW YORK (AP) — The Supreme Court’s ruling last month legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide has left Americans sharply divided, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll that suggests support for gay unions may be down slightly from earlier this year.

The poll also found a near-even split over whether local officials with religious objections should be required to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, with 47 percent saying that should be the case and 49 percent say they should be exempt.

Overall, if there’s a conflict, a majority of those questioned think religious liberties should win out over gay rights, according to the poll. While 39 percent said it’s more important for the government to protect gay rights, 56 percent said protection of religious liberties should take precedence.

The poll was conducted July 9 to July 13, less than three weeks after the Supreme Court ruled states cannot ban same-sex marriage.

According to the poll, 42 percent support same-sex marriage and 40 percent oppose it. The percentage saying they favor legal same-sex marriage in their state was down slightly from the 48 percent who said so in an April poll. In January, 44 percent were in favor.

Asked specifically about the Supreme Court ruling, 39 percent said they approve and 41 percent said they disapprove.

“What the Supreme Court did is jeopardize our religious freedoms,” said Michael Boehm, 61, an industrial controls engineer from the Detroit area who describes himself as a conservative-leaning independent.

“You’re going to see a conflict between civil law and people who want to live their lives according to their faiths,” Boehm said.

Boehm was among 59 percent of the poll respondents who said wedding-related businesses with religious objections should be allowed to refuse service to gay and lesbian couples. That compares with 52 percent in April.

Also, 46 percent said businesses more generally should be allowed to refuse service to same-sex couples, while 51 percent said that should not be allowed.

Claudette Girouard, 69, a retiree from Chesterfield Township, Michigan, said she is a moderate independent voter who has gradually become supportive of letting same-sex couples marry.

“I don’t see what the big hoopla is,” she said. “If they’re happy, why not?”

Girouard said local officials should be required to perform same-sex marriages, but does not think that wedding-related businesses should be forced to serve same-sex couples.

“If the official doesn’t like what he’s being asked to do, then quit,” she said. “But businesses are kind of independent, so if they have a strong belief against it, there are enough other businesses out there for someone to use.”

The poll found pronounced differences in viewpoints depending on political affiliation.

For example, 65 percent of Democrats, but only 22 percent of Republicans favored allowing same-sex couples to legally marry in their state. And 72 percent of Republicans but just 31 percent of Democrats said local officials with religious objections should be exempt from issuing marriage licenses.

By a 64-32 margin, most Democrats said it’s more important to protect gay rights than religious liberties when the two are in conflict. Republicans said the opposite, by 82-17.

Clarence Wells, 60, a conservative from Rockwood, Tennessee, said he strongly disapproved of the Supreme Court’s ruling. He anticipates friction as gay couples try to exercise their newfound rights and people with religious objections to same-sex marriage balk at accepting them.

“I don’t believe it’s going to go over smoothly,” said Wells. “I think a lot of them will be shunned in church. … I think there will businesses that are going to close, because some people are stubborn enough to not want to deal with it.”

Andrew Chan, 41, a moderate independent from Seattle, said he has tried to remain neutral on same-sex marriage.

“For me, it’s always been about tolerating,” said Chan, who works for a nonprofit organization. “I’ve got friends on both sides.”

Chan said he was happy for gays and lesbians who have found someone they want to marry, and he expressed some wariness toward politicians who might try to roll back the Supreme Court ruling.

“That just creates more division,” he said. “Are we looking to move the country forward or move it backward?”

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The AP-GfK Poll of 1,004 adults was conducted online July 9 to July 13, 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. Some questions were ask of half samples of respondents and have smaller margins of error. 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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Swanson reported from Washington.

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Reach David Crary on Twitter at http://twitter.com/CraryAP and Emily Swanson at http://twitter.com/EL_Swan

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Online:

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