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: 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