By TOM RAUM and JOSH LEDERMAN

WASHINGTON (AP) — For all the attention it got, Republican Mitt Romney’s selection of Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin as his running mate has not altered the race against President Barack Obama. The campaign remains neck and neck with less than three months to go, a new AP-GfK poll shows.

Overall, 47 percent of registered voters said they planned to back Obama and Vice President Joe Biden in November, while 46 percent favored Romney and Ryan. That’s not much changed from a June AP-GfK survey, when the split was 47 percent for the president to 44 percent for Romney.

At the same time, there’s a far wider gap when people were asked who they thought would win. Some 58 percent of adults said they expected Obama to be re-elected, while just 32 percent said they thought he’d be voted out of office.

After just over a week on the campaign trail, Ryan has a 38 percent favorable rating among adults, while 34 percent see him unfavorably. Among registered voters, his numbers are slightly better — 40 percent favorable to 34 percent unfavorable. Ryan remains unknown to about a quarter of voters.

Romney put the 42-year-old conservative chairman of the House Budget Committee on the ticket Aug. 11. The AP-GfK Poll was conducted Aug. 16-20.

Romney and Ryan will be crowned as the GOP presidential and vice presidential nominees next week at the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Fla. The Democrats hold their convention the following week in Charlotte, N.C.

The closely locked contest reflects deep partisan divisions across the country.

Among true independents, those who say they do not lean toward either party, the share of undecided voters is declining, with each candidate picking up new support at about the same pace. However, Romney maintains a small advantage with the group, with the backing of 41 percent of independents to Obama’s 30 percent. Some 21 percent still say they support neither candidate.

Among all voters, 23 percent are undecided or say they have not yet committed to their candidate.

One independent voter, Frank Nugent, a 76-year-old retired sales manager from Pittsburg, Calif., said he always gives both parties a chance to win him over — but not this time.

“Considering what the opposition is like, I can do nothing else but vote for Obama,” he said. Part of his dislike for the GOP ticket is due to Ryan, he said, describing Romney’s ticket mate as “further right that the bulk of the Republican Party.” But while he’ll vote for Obama, Nugent said he’s disappointed in Obama’s record.

Robert Hamrick, 39, from Cedartown, Ga., is going the other way. Although a registered Democrat, he plans to vote for the Romney-Ryan ticket, claiming Obama has been deceptive and failed to make good on his promises on the economy, jobs and government debt.

As for Ryan, Hamrick said: “He’s very smart. He knows his stuff. He knows the finance. He can take apart Obamacare with ease.” Hamrick is a former nursing home manager who left his job about four years ago in hopes of finding one with more security — and has been mostly unemployed ever since.

The frail economy, with the unemployment rate hovering at 8.3 percent more than three years after the deep recession officially ended, remains the No. 1 issue. Nine in 10 call it important for them and half of voters say it is “extremely important,” outpacing all other issues tested by at least 10 percentage points. Two-thirds in the poll described the economy as poor.

Registered voters split about evenly between the two candidates on whom they’d trust more to handle the economy, with 48 percent favoring Romney and 44 percent Obama. They are also about evenly divided on who would do more to create jobs, 47 percent for Romney to 43 percent for Obama. Among independent voters, Romney has a big lead over the president on handling the economy — 46 percent to 27 percent.

Romney often appeals to his business background as proof that he could better manage the federal government, and the poll finds that overall, voters are more apt to trust him to handle the federal budget deficit over Obama, by a 50 percent to 40 percent margin.

But it’s unlikely that Ryan’s background in authoring Republican budgets will boost them as an issue in the campaign. The share of adults saying the budget deficit was deeply important to them dropped from 75 percent in February to 69 percent in the new poll.

Among those who rate the economy as the top concern is Mattise Fraser, a 52-year-old Democrat whose hometown of Charlotte is gearing up for the Democratic gathering. “We’re in a crisis situation now,” said Fraser, who said she plans to vote for Obama. She says she’s a homemaker — but not by choice. “The economy is crazy. There’s no jobs.”

Obama holds a clear edge among voters on handling social issues such as abortion, 52 percent to 35 percent, and a narrow one on handling Medicare, 48 percent to 42 percent. Medicare has grabbed a lot of attention as an issue lately, with Ryan’s proposals to partly change the program drawing criticism from Obama and other Democrats.

Of those who said Medicare is an extremely important issue, 49 percent say they plan to vote for Obama and 44 percent for Romney.

Obama’s approval rating held steady at about an even split, with 49 percent saying they approve of the way he’s handling his job and another 49 percent saying they disapprove.

The president remains more positively viewed than Romney, and continues to be seen as more empathetic. Some 53 percent of adults hold a “favorable” opinion of the president, compared with just 44 percent who view Romney favorably. Obama also held a commanding lead among voters as the candidate who better “understands the problems of people like you,” 51 percent to 36 percent for Romney. Some 50 percent see him as a stronger leader than Romney; 41 percent see Romney as stronger.

Michelle Obama remains more popular than her husband. Sixty-four percent of adults view her favorably and just 26 percent unfavorably, although that’s down from 70 percent favorable in May. Ann Romney’s favorable rating is mostly unchanged since May, with 40 percent viewing her favorably, 27 percent unfavorably and nearly a third declining to say.

Thirty-five percent overall say things in the nation are heading in the “right direction,” up from 31 percent in June.

Melinda Cody, a 45-year-old undecided voter in San Diego, sees positives and negatives with both candidates — and says she’ll vote for the candidate who does the least bullying. “When they just run a negative campaign, it backfires,” she said.

The poll involved landline and cell phone interviews with 1,006 adults nationwide, including 885 registered voters. Results for the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.9, while it’s 4.1 points for registered voters.

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

 

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Online:

 

http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com

 

 

How the AP-GfK poll was conducted

 

The Associated Press-GfK Poll on the 2012 presidential election was conducted by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications from Aug. 16-20. It is based on landline and cellphone telephone interviews with a nationally representative random sample of 1,006 adults, including 885 registered voters. Interviews were conducted with 604 respondents on landline telephones and 402 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 3.9 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 4.1 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 .

 

AP-GfK Poll: Most say filing tax returns is easy; few willing to pay more for simpler forms

By STEPHEN OHLEMACHER and JENNIFER AGIESTA, Associated Press

 WASHINGTON (AP) — Struggling to figure out your federal tax return? You’re not alone, but you’re in the minority.

With the tax filing deadline looming next week, a majority of Americans say completing a federal tax return is easy, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll.

The findings defy conventional wisdom in Washington, where politicians have made careers out of promising a simpler tax system. In another blow to advocates of tax reform, almost no one is willing to pay higher taxes in exchange for a simpler code.

“If you’ve got the equivalent of a high school degree and you know how to do math, it’s very simple,” said Sara Thornton, a small business owner from East Granby, Conn.

Only 7 percent of those surveyed say they would be willing to pay more in federal taxes if the process of filling out a tax return were easier. Some 90 percent say “no, thanks.”

“No, because I don’t know that it is that difficult,” said Alicia Brown of suburban Des Moines, Iowa. “We already pay outlandish taxes because we live in Iowa. We have very high real estate taxes.”

The tax-writing committees in Congress have spent the past several years trying to build momentum for the herculean task of simplifying the tax code. One reason it’s so difficult is there are bound to be winners and losers. Sweeping changes to precious tax breaks will undoubtedly leave some people paying more, while others pay less.

One selling point for tax reform has been a simpler tax form. Ever hear a politician say you should be able to fill out your taxes on the back of a postcard? You’ll probably hear it again during this fall’s elections.

The National Taxpayer Advocate says filers spend a total of 6.1 billion hours a year preparing tax returns, at a cost of $168 billion. According to the IRS, 90 percent of filers either pay a tax preparer or use computer software to help them fill out their returns.

But 58 percent in the AP-GfK poll say completing a federal tax return is easy. Thirty-eight percent call it hard.

Fully 86 percent who have completed their tax forms say they are extremely confident or very confident that they filled them out correctly.

Not surprisingly, higher income taxpayers are more likely to say that filling out tax forms is difficult. Wealthy people tend to have more complicated taxes because they often have multiple sources of income and they are more likely to itemize their deductions, making them eligible for more tax breaks.

Forty-five percent of those with incomes above $100,000 said it is hard, compared with 33 percent among those making less than $50,000.

Through March 28, the IRS has processed 89 million returns. About 82 percent have qualified for refunds, averaging $2,831. That’s about $207 billion in tax refunds. Almost 91 percent of returns have been filed electronically.

Americans think most of their fellow taxpayers are honest, but not all of them. On average, poll-takers estimate that about one-third of Americans intentionally cheat when filling out their tax returns.

Erma Pierce of Poplar Bluff in southeast Missouri said she thinks about half of people cheat on their taxes, and she takes a dim view of it.

“You’re not supposed to cheat, lie or steal,” Pierce said. “It’s against the Bible.”

Thornton, the small business owner in Connecticut, said her estimate depends on the definition of cheating.

“People think of cheating as a case of, I reported I have nine children and I only have two. Or I reported I only made $20,000 this year and I actually made $50,000,” Thornton said. “They think of those forms of cheating, the absolute blatant, extravagant forms.”

Thornton’s definition of cheating is broader, which is why she thinks 80 percent to 90 percent of people cheat on their taxes.

“The minor forms of cheating are things like, well, I can increase my charitable deduction by $200,” Thornton said. “Most people consider, quote, unquote padding their income tax reporting or shaving it off a little bit, they don’t necessarily view that as cheating.”

“I define that as cheating only because it really is.”

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted March 20-24, 2014 using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based online panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,012 adults, and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points for all respondents.

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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AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.

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Online:

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

Follow Stephen Ohlemacher on Twitter: http://twitter.com/stephenatap


AP-GfK Poll: Election indicators suggest GOP edge

By, JENNIFER AGIESTA, Associated Press

(AP) – The latest Associated Press-GfK poll holds bad news for President Barack Obama, but as the November elections draw closer, there are ominous signs for congressional Democrats as well.

A look at the key findings from the March poll on this year’s election and the burgeoning 2016 presidential field.

GOP GAINING GROUND

Preferences for control of Congress are tight, but Republicans have gained on Democrats since January. Thirty-six percent in last month’s poll said they would rather see the Democrats in charge of Congress and 37 percent chose Republicans.

Democrats held a narrow advantage on that question in January, when 39 percent favored the Democrats and 32 percent the Republicans.

Democrats are in the majority in the Senate while Republicans run the House.

The shift stems largely from a change among those most interested in politics.

In the new poll, registered voters who are most strongly interested in politics favored the Republicans by 14 percentage points, 51 percent to 37 percent. In January, this group was about evenly split, with 42 percent preferring Democrats and 45 percent the Republicans.

That’s not the only positive sign in the poll for the Republicans.

Favorable views of the GOP have improved, with 38 percent overall now saying they hold a favorable impression of the Party. Republicans’ positive view of their own party has increased from 57 percent in January to 72 percent now.

Even impressions of the tea party movement have shifted more positive in recent months. GOP favorability still lags behind that of the Democrats, however, with 43 percent holding a favorable view of the Democratic Party.

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CONGRESSIONAL APPROVAL STAGNANT

Congressional approval is stagnant and negative, with just 16 percent saying they approve while 82 percent disapprove. Among those who have “a great deal” or “quite a bit” of interest in politics, 90 percent disapprove, including 61 percent who strongly disapprove.

Nearly 4 in 10 (39 percent) would like to see their own member of Congress re-elected, an improvement since January. Among registered voters who say they pay a great deal of attention to politics, 44 percent say they would like to see their current member re-elected, compared with 33 percent in January.

Here, there’s a glimmer of hope for Democrats. Those who consider themselves Democrats are now more likely than Republicans to say their own member of Congress ought to be re-elected. Not all Democrats live in districts represented by Democrats, of course, but it represents a shift in opinion since January.

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WHO’S IN CHARGE

With control of Congress divided between the parties, most Americans say Obama has a lot or quite a bit of control over what the federal government does, outpacing the share who say the Democrats or Republicans in Congress are in control.

Partisans tend to see the opposition as the controlling force, with Republicans more apt than Democrats to see Obama in charge, and Democrats more likely to say the Republicans have the upper hand.

Six in 10 (62 percent) of those with a great deal or quite a bit of interest in politics say Obama has a lot or quite a bit of control of what the federal government does. Just half (51 percent) of those closely attuned to politics say Democrats in Congress exert a similar influence over what the federal government does and 40 percent say the same about Republicans in Congress.

There’s little change since December in which party Americans trust more to handle major issues.

Democrats’ strong points are on handling social issues, including same-sex marriage (31 percent prefer Democrats, 17 percent the Republicans) and abortion (30 percent prefer Democrats, 22 percent Republicans). Republicans have the edge on protecting the country, 34 percent to 16 percent, a slightly wider margin than they held on the question in December.

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LOOKING TO 2016? NOT SO MUCH

The poll measured impressions of 19 potential 2016 presidential candidates, and found that a majority of those surveyed offered an opinion about just seven of them. The other 12 have quite a lot of introducing themselves to do if they are to make a run for the White House.

Most people said either they hadn’t heard of them or skipped the question.

Hillary Rodham Clinton generated the most positive response of the bunch, with 46 percent viewing the former secretary of state and first lady favorably and 39 percent unfavorably.

Among potential GOP contenders, none generated a net positive reaction from the public, with 2012 vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan faring best – 27 percent viewed him favorably, 29 percent unfavorably.

Among Republicans, majorities have favorable impressions of Ryan and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. But in a sign that the past isn’t always prologue, nearly half of Republicans say they don’t know enough to have an opinion about former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, a large factor in the 2012 nomination fight.

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The AP-GfK Poll was conducted March 20-24, 2014 using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based online panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,012 adults, and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points for all respondents.

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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AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.

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Online:

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

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Follow Jennifer Agiesta on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/JennAgiesta