By JIM KUHNHENN and JENNIFER AGIESTA, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Fewer Americans believe the economy is getting better and a majority disapproves of how President Barack Obama is handling it, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll.

Republican challenger Mitt Romney has exploited those concerns and moved into a virtually even position with the president.

Three months of declining job creation have left the public increasingly glum, with only 3 out of 10 adults saying the country is headed in the right direction. Five months before the election, the economy remains Obama’s top liability.

Obama has lost the narrow lead he had held just a month ago among registered voters. In the new poll, 47 percent say they will vote for the president and 44 percent for Romney, a difference that is not statistically significant. The poll also shows that Romney has recovered well from a bruising Republican primary, with more of his supporters saying they are certain to vote for him now.

Still, in a measure of Romney’s own vulnerabilities, even some voters who say they support Romney believe the president will still be re-elected. Of all adults polled, 56 percent believe Obama will win a second term.

With his Republican nomination now ensured, Romney has succeeded in unifying the party behind him and in maintaining a singular focus on making the election a referendum on Obama’s handling of the economy. The poll is not good news for the president, and it reflects fluctuations in the economy, which has shown both strength and weakness since it began to recover from the recent recession. The new survey illustrates how an ideologically divided country and a stumbling recovery have driven the two men into a tight match.

About half — 49 percent — approve of how Obama is handling his job as president, dropping him below the 50 percent mark he was above in May. Disapproval of Obama is highest — 55 percent — for his handling of the economy. Still, registered voters are split virtually evenly on whether Romney or Obama would do a better job improving it.

“I’m not going to vote for Obama,” said Raymond Back, a 60-year-old manufacturing plant manager from North Olmsted, Ohio, one of the most competitive states in this election. “It’s just the wrong thing to go. I don’t know what Romney is going to do, but this isn’t the right way.”

Obama’s overall 49 percent approval rating is not unlike the approval ratings George W. Bush faced in June 2004 during his re-election campaign, when he and his Democratic challenger, John Kerry, were also locked in a dead heat.

The polling numbers come as no surprise to either camp. Both Romney and Obama advisers have anticipated a close contest that will be driven largely by economic conditions. The Obama camp is busy trying to define Romney, hoping it is reaching more independents like Doss Comer, 58, of Jacksonville, N.C., who said he would vote for Obama again, despite the lagging economy.

“I think we are on the wrong track,” he said. “We’re not getting anywhere. We’re not growing. The unemployment rate just spiked up again.” But, he added: “I don’t trust Romney because of what he’s doing. He’s telling his business experience, that he was an investor in business. … I don’t think he has the right background any more than Obama.”

Besides weak job growth and still high unemployment, Obama is at the mercy of European countries struggling with a debt crisis that has already sent ripples across the Atlantic. At the same time, there are signs that the housing industry may be on the mend. U.S. builders started work on more single-family homes in May and requested the most permits to build homes and apartments in 3 1/2 years.

Those types of crosscurrents are also evident in politics. While preferences for November are evenly split, a majority believes Obama will still be re-elected, a shift from an even split on the question seven months ago. In December, 21 percent of Republicans said they thought Obama would win re-election; that’s risen to 31 percent now. And among independents, the share saying Obama will win has climbed from 49 percent to 60 percent. Among Democrats, it was 75 percent in both polls.

Tim Baierlein of Brandon, Fla., believes Romney would be a reassuring voice for a business community worried about regulations and higher taxes. But he said he still thinks Obama will win because the right wing of the Republican Party could alienate voters away from Romney and because, in his view, Romney lacks a clear message.

“He just comes across as very elitist and I think that’s going to hurt,” he said.

About 4 out of 10 adults say they are worse off now than they were four years ago, compared with nearly 3 out of 10 who say they are doing better now. Among those who say they’re doing worse, 60 percent say they plan to vote for Romney in November.

Amy Thackeray, 35, of Alpine, Utah, said her husband and five children experienced the economic downturn when it affected her husband’s job. “We’ve dealt with a pay cut,” she said. “We are grateful we still have a job. We live within our means. We save and we feel that in situations like this, it makes us save even more.”

“We need someone with more financial and business experience than what Obama has,” she said. “We need a president who takes one term and makes the hard decisions to put us back on the right track, and I hope it will be Romney.”

The Associated Press-GfK Poll was conducted June 14-18 by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cellphone interviews with 1,007 adults nationwide, including 878 registered voters. Results from the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points; it is 4.2 points for registered voters.

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

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Online:

http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com

 

 

How the AP-GfK poll was conducted

 

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

 

The Associated Press-GfK Poll on the 2012 presidential election and the economy was conducted by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications from June 14-18. It is based on landline and cellphone telephone interviews with a nationally representative random sample of 1,007 adults, including 878 registered voters. Interviews were conducted with 707 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 1 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 sampling error for registered voters is plus or minus 4.2 percentage points.

 

There are other sources of potential error in polls, including the wording and order of questions.

Topline results are available at http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com and http://surveys.ap.org

The questions and results are available at http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com .

 

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