By CHARLES BABINGTON and JENNIFER AGIESTA, Associated Press

 WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama’s re-election glow is gone. Congress’ reputation remains dismal. And only about one in five Americans say they trust the government to do what’s right most of the time, an Associated Press-GfK poll finds.

Most adults disapprove of Obama’s handling of the federal deficit, a festering national problem. But they also dislike key proposals to reduce deficit spending, including a slower growth in Social Security benefits and changes to Medicare.

Rounding out the portrait of a nation in a funk, the share of people saying the United States is heading in the wrong direction is at its highest since last August: 56 percent.

The government in Washington is “dealing with a lot of stuff that are non-issues,” said Jeremy Hammond, 33, of Queensbury, N.Y.

Hammond, a Web programmer and political independent, said Congress should focus on “the incredible debt and lack of spending control.” He said it’s absurd for Congress to force the Postal Service to continue Saturday mail delivery when the agency says “we can’t afford it.”

Hammond reflects the lukewarm feelings toward Obama found in the poll. Asked his opinion of the president, Hammond paused and said: “I don’t know. I voted for him in 2008, not in 2012.” When it comes to presidents, he said, “it’s one set of lawyers or the other.”

Just 7 percent of Americans say they trust the government in Washington to do what is right “just about always,” the AP-GfK poll found. Fourteen percent say they trust it “most” of the time. Two-thirds trust the federal government only some of the time; 11 percent say they never do.

Obama’s overall job approval rating is at its lowest point since his re-election: 50 percent, with 47 percent disapproving. His approval rating among Republicans — 10 percent — is back to where it was before the election. Among independents, disapproval has crept up to 49 percent.

With more and more components of the 2010 “Obamacare” health law taking effect, 41 percent of Americans approve of the president’s handling of health care. That’s the lowest level during his time in office.

Ratings of the president’s handling of the economy, meanwhile, are back in negative territory, with 52 percent disapproving and 46 percent approving. In last September’s run-up to the election, 49 percent said they approved, and 48 percent disapproved.

In the new poll, disapproval among independents on handling the economy is up 10 percentage points since September 2012. It now stands at 57 percent.

Obama’s budget proposals are winning few kudos. Fifty-six percent of Americans disapprove of the way he is handling the federal deficit, while 39 percent approve. Those levels have changed little in the past 15 months.

Public support has dropped, however, for proposals recently floated by Obama and others to slow the growth of benefits in the popular but costly Social Security and Medicare programs.

Opposition to raising the Medicare eligibility age has grown over the last few months in AP-GfK polling. Shortly after the fall election, 48 percent opposed such a plan, while 40 percent supported it. Opposition has grown by 11 points since then, with 59 percent now saying they dislike the idea.

Support among Democrats fell from 41 percent last fall to just 27 percent now, with 60 percent opposed.

Curiously, perhaps, the sharpest drop in support for a higher Medicare eligibility age was found among adults under 30. The new poll found 32 percent of them backing the idea, compared to 48 percent last fall. Medicare, the major health care program for seniors, is partly funded by payroll taxes on all wage earners.

Most Americans also oppose a proposal to slow the cost-of-living hikes in Social Security benefits. Now, 54 percent oppose the idea, up slightly from January, when 49 percent opposed it. Only about a quarter favor it.

Donald Roberts of Kingsport, Tenn., is among those who want no changes to Medicare and Social Security. “Leave them alone,” he said, “because it’s all you can do to get by on it.”

Roberts, 57, a political independent and former construction worker, receives disability benefits and is diabetic. He said Medicare pays for his doctor visits, but he must cover some of his medications’ cost.

Roberts also shared the often-heard disenchantment with Obama. “He’s OK, I guess,” Roberts said. “I wouldn’t have voted for him.”

Hammond, the 33-year-old Web programmer, holds a different view of Medicare and Social Security.

“They are critical programs,” he said, “but we should start privatizing some of that stuff.”

Hammond said he thinks younger workers could get better returns if at least some of their payroll taxes were invested in stocks or other instruments, and then earmarked for each worker’s eventual retirement.

Americans are ambivalent about raising taxes on wealthier households, which Obama proposes as a means to help shrink the deficit. Forty-five percent support new limits on itemized tax deductions for the top 2 percent of earners. That covers individuals making at least $183,000 a year, and married couples making $223,000 or more. One in three Americans oppose the idea.

Most Democrats — 57 percent —favor the proposal. But only 41 percent of independents and 33 percent of Republicans do.

Most Americans support Obama’s “Buffet rule,” which would require those making $1 million or more annually to pay at least 30 percent of their earnings in federal income taxes. Just under 60 percent support the idea, while 29 percent oppose it.

Democrats might find comfort in the fact that Republican lawmakers are even less popular than Democrats.

Thirty-seven percent of adults approve of congressional Democrats, while 57 percent disapprove. Republicans in Congress fare worse: 27 percent approve of their performance, and 67 percent disapprove.

Even self-identified Republican adults have dim views of GOP lawmakers. Just 44 percent approve of the way congressional Republicans handle their jobs, and 52 percent disapprove.

Democrats’ views of their own party’s lawmakers are considerably better, with 68 percent approving the job being done by Democrats in Congress.

The Associated Press-GfK Poll was conducted April 11-15, 2013, by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cell phone interviews with 1,004 adults nationwide. Results for the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points; it is larger for subgroups.

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News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.

 

Online: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com

 How the poll was conducted

 The Associated Press-GfK poll on President Obama, politics and the federal budget deficit was conducted by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications from April 11-15. It is based on landline telephone and cellphone interviews with a nationally representative random sample of 1,004 adults. Interviews were conducted with 601 respondents on landline telephones and 403 on cellular telephones.

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.

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

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

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

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