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: Americans favor farmers & food during drought
LOS ANGELES (AP) — When water gets scarce and the government slaps restrictions on its use, who should be first in line at the spigot? Farmers, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll.

The national survey provides a glimpse into how Americans think water should be managed at a time when abnormally dry weather has afflicted swaths of the country, and water shortages in some states have led to conflict over who should get water and how much.

Two-thirds of Americans believe water is a limited resource that can be depleted if people use too much, the poll found, and 70 percent believe that government should restrict how much residents and businesses use when drought takes hold.

When asked to rate the importance of competing needs when water is scarce, 74 percent said agriculture should be a top or high priority, followed by residential needs (66 percent), wildlife and ecosystems (54 percent) and business and industry (42 percent).

To Cheryl Hendricks in parched California, it’s simple: To put food on the table “we rely on agriculture.”

“It’s getting kind of serious when you are not giving water to people who are producing food,” said Hendricks, 63, of Rancho Cucamonga, about 40 miles east of downtown Los Angeles.

She and her husband are taking shorter showers and removing lawn in response to California’s four-year drought, but for growers and ranchers “it’s more important for them to have it.”

The poll’s findings appear to run against criticism of farming practices that demand vast amounts of water. In California, for example, agriculture accounts for 80 percent of all water drawn from rivers, streams and the ground. Producing California’s almond crop consumes more water than all the showering, dish-washing and other indoor household water use of the state’s 39 million people.

The drought has been acute in California, where rainfall has dipped to record lows, reservoirs are depleted and state regulators have ordered conservation from cities, businesses and agriculture. Some communities have been given nine months to cut their use by 36 percent compared to 2013 levels.

Nevada’s Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the country, is hovering near its historic low water mark and residents in the Las Vegas area have limits on lawn watering. In Oakridge in western Oregon, a community well is 23 feet below normal and restrictions prevent residents from washing cars and filling swimming pools.

“We need to take care of people first — and food,” said William Clarke-Jessimy, 33, from Queens, New York, who thinks homes and agriculture should be favored for water rights.

He’s watched prices spike for California fresh fruits and vegetables in his local markets, and he worries about friends and family in the San Francisco area who are living with the scarcity of water, with no relief in sight.

“It’s really scary,” he said. “They need to find ways to deal with the drought on a long-term basis. I don’t think a lot of people realize how bad it really is.”

Earlier this month, the House passed Republican-backed legislation designed to bring more water to California’s farm belt. Republicans have blamed some cutbacks on environmental regulations designed to protect salmon and the threatened Delta smelt, a three-inch-long fish that is disappearing. California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein has proposed spending $1.3 billion over a decade for reservoirs, desalination projects and water recycling.

According to the survey, Republicans are slightly more likely than Democrats to call water for agriculture a top priority, 81 percent to 74 percent, respectively. Democrats were more likely than Republicans to see water for wildlife and ecosystems as a top need, 61 percent to 49 percent.

There was little variation in regions around the nation in picking top priorities.

The poll also found most Americans — nearly 80 percent — think government should limit developers to building only in places with an adequate, long-term water supply.

The advocacy group Food & Water Watch has urged Gov. Jerry Brown to place a moratorium on groundwater use for irrigating crops in some parts of the heavily farmed San Joaquin Valley. California director Adam Scow said the poll’s findings reflect that people value food production but the group believes “we simply don’t have the water” to support crops in some drought stricken regions.

David Abbott has witnessed the toll in his hometown.

The resident of Winton, California, in the heart of the state’s Central Valley farm belt, has seen fields turn to dusty patches and farm workers end up jobless. Friends’ wells have gone dry.

In California, farmers have seen allocations of water from rivers and reservoirs slashed by government agencies in amounts greater than at any other time in California history, forcing many to tap depleted groundwater sources or buy it at high prices.

Abbott, 27, a part-time college business professor, places home use and the needs of agriculture on about equal footing. For his part, he’s watering less outdoors at home, has changed shower heads to conserve and waits to get a full load of dirty laundry before turning on the washing machine.

“I know it’s hard when we don’t have water,” said Abbott, who lives amid farms and almond orchards. “They say we are going to have a real wet winter, but I don’t think that’s going to be enough.”

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

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Online:

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


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