By JENNIFER AGIESTA and KEN THOMAS, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Entering 2012, President Barack Obama’s re-election prospects are essentially a 50-50 proposition, with a majority saying the president deserves to be voted out of office despite concerns about the Republican alternatives, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll.

Obama’s overall poll numbers suggest he could be in jeopardy of losing re-election even as the public’s outlook on the economy appears to be improving, the AP-GfK poll found. For the first time since spring, more said the economy got better in the past month than said it got worse. The president’s approval rating on unemployment shifted upward — from 40 percent in October to 45 percent in the latest poll — as the jobless rate fell to 8.6 percent last month, its lowest level since March 2009.

But Obama’s approval rating on his handling of the economy overall remains stagnant: 39 percent approve and 60 percent disapprove.

Heading into his re-election campaign, the president faces a conflicted public that does not support his steering of the economy, the most dominant issue for Americans, or his reforms to health care, one of his signature accomplishments, yet are grappling with whether to replace him with Republican contenders Mitt Romney or Newt Gingrich.

The poll found an even divide on whether Americans expect Obama to be re-elected next year.

For the first time, the poll found that a majority of adults, 52 percent, said Obama should be voted out of office while 43 percent said he deserves another term. The numbers mark a reversal since last May, when 53 percent said Obama should be re-elected while 43 percent said he didn’t deserve four more years.

Obama’s overall job approval stands at a new low: 44 percent approve while 54 percent disapprove. The president’s standing among independents is worse: 38 percent approve while 59 percent disapprove. Among Democrats, the president holds steady with an approval rating of 78 percent while only 12 percent of Republicans approve of the job he’s doing.

“I think he’s doing the best he can. The problem is the Congress won’t help at all,” said Rosario Navarro, a Democrat and a 44-year-old truck driver from Fresno, Calif., who voted for Obama in 2008 and intends to support him again.

Robin Dein, a 54-year-old homemaker from Villanova, Pa., who is an independent, said she supported Republican John McCain in 2008 and has not been impressed with Obama’s economic policies. She intends to support Romney if he wins the GOP nomination.

“(Obama) spent the first part of his presidency blaming Bush for everything, not that he was innocent, and now his way of solving anything is by spending more money,” she said.

Despite the soft level of support, many are uncertain whether a Republican president would be a better choice. Asked whom they would support next November, 47 percent of adults favored Obama compared with 46 percent for Romney, a former Massachusetts governor. Against Gingrich, the president holds a solid advantage, receiving 51 percent compared with 42 percent for the former House speaker.

The potential matchups paint a better picture for the president among independents. Obama receives 45 percent of non-aligned adults compared with 41 percent for Romney. Against Gingrich, Obama holds a wide lead among independents, with 54 percent supporting the president and 31 percent backing the former Georgia congressman.

Another piece of good news for Obama: people generally like him personally. Obama’s personal favorability rating held steady at 53 percent, with 46 percent viewing him unfavorably. About three-quarters called him likeable.

The economy remains a source of pessimism, though the poll suggests the first positive movement in public opinion on the economy in months. One in five said the economy improved in the last month, double the share saying so in October. Still most expect it to stay the same or get worse.

“I suppose you could make some sort of argument that it’s getting better, but I’m not sure I even see that,” said independent voter John Bailey, a 61-year-old education consultant from East Jordan, Mich. “I think it’s bad and it’s gotten worse under (Obama’s) policies. At best, it’s going to stay bad.”

Despite the high rate of joblessness, the poll found some optimism on the economy. Although 80 percent described the economy as “poor,” respondents describing it “very poor” fell from 43 percent in October to 34 percent in the latest poll, the lowest since May. Twenty percent said the economy got better in the past month while 37 percent said they expected the economy to improve next year.

Yet plenty of warning signs remain for Obama. Only 26 percent said the United States is headed in the right direction while 70 percent said the country was moving in the wrong direction.

The president won a substantial number of women voters in 2008 yet there does not appear to be a significant tilt toward Obama among women now. The poll found 44 percent of women say Obama deserves a second term, down from 51 percent in October, while 43 percent of men say the president should be re-elected.

About two-thirds of white voters without college degrees say Obama should be a one-term president, while 33 percent of those voters say he should get another four years. Among white voters with a college degree, 57 percent said Obama should be voted out of office.

The poll found unpopularity for last year’s health care reform bill, one of Obama’s major accomplishments. About half of the respondents oppose the health care law and support for it dipped to 29 percent from 36 percent in June. Just 15 percent said the federal government should have the power to require all Americans to buy health insurance.

Even among Democrats, the health care law has tepid support. Fifty percent of Democrats supported the health care law, compared with 59 percent of Democrats last June. Only about a quarter of independents back the law.

The president has taken a more populist tone in his handling of the economy, arguing that the wealthy should pay more in taxes to help pay for the extension of a payroll tax cut that would provide about $1,000 in tax cuts to a family earning about $50,000 a year. Among those with annual household incomes of $50,000 or less, Obama’s approval rating on unemployment climbed to 53 percent, from 43 percent in October.

The Associated Press-GfK Poll was conducted December 8-12 2011 by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cell phone interviews with 1,000 adults nationwide and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

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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 poll was conducted

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Associated Press-GfK Poll on President Barack Obama and the economy was conducted by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications from Dec. 8-12. It is based on landline and cellphone telephone interviews with a nationally representative random sample of 1,000 adults. Interviews were conducted with 700 respondents on landline telephones and 300 on cellphones.

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.

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

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