By CONNIE CASS and JENNIFER AGIESTA

WASHINGTON (AP) — Who are these people who still can’t make up their minds? They’re undecided voters like Kelly Cox, who spends his days repairing the big rigs that haul central California’s walnuts, grapes, milk and more across America.

He doesn’t put much faith in either Barack Obama or Mitt Romney. But he figures he’s got plenty of time — a little more than a week — to settle on one of them before Nov. 6. And he definitely does plan to vote.

“I’ll do some online research,” said Cox, co-owner of a Delhi, Calif., truck repair shop. “I don’t have time to watch presidential debates because it’s a lot of garbage anyway. They’re not asking the questions that the people want to hear.”

About 5 percent of Americans with solid plans to vote have yet to pick their presidential candidate, according to a new AP-GfK poll. When you add in those who lean only tentatively toward their choice or won’t declare a favorite, about 16 percent of likely voters look ripe for persuasion. That’s about the same as a month ago.

In a super-tight race, undecided voters have taken on almost mythic stature. Their questions at the town hall-style debate are parsed. Campaign techies wade through data to find them. The president dialed up 9,000 of them for an Air Force One conference call as he flew to Los Angeles this week.

But the undecided also endure Twitter sniping and late-night TV ribbing. They’re derided as uninformed nincompoops who don’t merit the power they wield. As David Letterman put it: “You’re idiots! Make up your mind!”

Do these wafflers, ruminators and procrastinators deserve coddling — or scorn? Are they just misunderstood?

A look at who they are and what they’re waiting for:

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THEY’RE NOT BLANK SLATES

Two-thirds of persuadable voters have an established party preference, the AP-GfK poll shows. They’re roughly divided between those who call themselves Democrats or lean that way and those who are Republicans or lean to that side.

So why not just plan to vote with their party?

“They are really a little bit torn,” said Lynn Vavreck, an associate professor of political science at the University of California, Los Angeles. “They may have some issue positions that are counter to their party, or they’re not sure how they stand on some things.”

Nancy Hoang, a University of Minnesota freshman studying mathematics, considers herself a fiscal conservative and leans Republican. Yet she vacillated because she agrees with the Democrats’ support for gay marriage and opposition to voter ID laws.

“I could have gone either way,” said Hoang, 18. Not until after the final debate Monday did she decide: Her first-ever presidential vote will go to Romney.

Most of these undecided voters will come home to their favored party by Election Day, predicts Vavreck, who studies an ongoing survey of registered voters as well as trends from past elections.

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STILL, A GOOD CHUNK ARE INDEPENDENTS

About 30 percent of persuadable voters say they’re political independents. That’s three times the presence of independents — just 8 percent — among likely voters who have decided who they’ll vote for, according to the AP-GfK poll.

In an increasingly polarized America, they stand out. Robert Dohrenburg, a small business owner in McAllen, Texas, voted for Republicans Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, but not for Bush’s son, George W. He backed Obama in 2008, then had second thoughts this year.

Dohrenburg, 56, watched all three presidential debates before making up his mind to stick with Obama, in part because Romney “says one thing today and another thing tomorrow.”

He wishes Ron Paul had won the Republican nomination.

“I’m a very strong independent,” he said. “I choose the best candidate.”

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ARE THEY EVEN PAYING ATTENTION?

Professors have a euphemism: low-information voters. The bulk of registered voters who are still undecided fall into that group, researchers say.

“They’re basically not that interested in politics,” Vavreck said. “They pay less attention to news in general.”

Her image of the typical undecided American, based on her research: “the single mom with a couple of kids who just doesn’t have time to be attuned to politics but feels like it’s her civic duty to vote, and may or may not show up at the polls.”

Yet the still-deciding who are committed to voting don’t see themselves as out of touch.

In the AP-GfK poll, 85 percent of the persuadables said they have a “great deal” or “quite a bit” of interest in following the campaign, almost as high as among other likely voters.

Rita Kirk, a communications professor at Southern Methodist University, seeks out these involved-but-undecided voters in swing counties of states with close presidential contests. She gathered the groups that recorded their live reactions on CNN during the debates. They are following the race, she insists.

“They know that they’re in a county that’s going to make a difference,” Kirk said. “They’re wanting to make a good choice, and they kind of feel the weight and gravitas of that.”

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SO WHAT DO THEY THINK?

They’re of two minds.

Persuadable voters are more likely to trust Romney to do a better job handling the economy and the federal budget deficit, the AP-GfK poll shows. And they’re about as comfortable with Romney as they are with Obama on foreign policy.

They are more likely to say Obama has a clear vision for the future, however. They tend to say he understands the problems of people like them better than Romney does. They also give Obama a broad advantage on making the right decision on women’s issues.

They’re worried about the future.

Only 3 in 10 persuadable voters think the economy will improve in the coming year, compared with 6 in 10 decided voters.

“I’m not sure that either candidate is going to be able to correct the issues,” said Cox, 43, who watched California’s Central Valley suffer through recession and drought. “I’d like to get the jobs back in the United States. I’d like to quit owing China everything. Put the farmers back to work.”

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WHAT’S TAKING THEM SO LONG?

Some see virtue in refusing to rush.

Victoria Cook, a 27-year-old psychology student at Arapahoe Community College near Denver, leans toward Obama. But she stood in line to see Romney and Ryan at a rally with rocker Kid Rock this week.

“I don’t want it to get to the point where you just write off the other guys right away,” Cook said as she waited. “So I’ll listen to what they have to say.”

Professor Kirk said many undecided voters are so annoyed by months of TV commercials and punditry and news coverage that they just tune it all out until Election Day nears.

“They want to pay attention at the time they’re ready to make a choice,” she said. “It’s like someone buying a car. That’s when they start looking at the consumer magazines and all the attributes and how many airbags do the different models have. Not months in advance.”

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WILL THEY DECIDE THIS ELECTION?

It’s possible.

“That small group of people can make a difference if the vast majority of them swing in one direction,” said Rutgers University political science Professor Richard Lau, who studies how voters decide.

But that would be unusual. Late deciders tend to be divided, not vote as a block — unless they are swept up in a bigger wave, Lau said. In 1980, for example, October polls showed President Jimmy Carter in a tight race with Ronald Reagan.

“It was very close up until the last few days and somehow everybody just decided, ‘Enough. We’re going to change courses here,’” Lau said. “Usually what happens is that the independent voters change in the direction that somehow the nature of the times is already going.”

Still, an advantage among procrastinators could swing the race in a hotly contested state.

In the last two presidential elections, about 1 in 10 voters surveyed as they left polling places said they’d settled on their candidate within the previous week. About 5 percent decided on Election Day.

No word on how many made up their minds while standing in the voting booth.

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Associated Press News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius in Washington and Associated Press writer Philip Elliott in Denver contributed to this report.

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Follow Connie Cass on Twitter: http://www.Twitter.com/ConnieCass

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

 

 

 

How the poll was conducted

 

The Associated Press-GfK poll on undecided and persuadable voters was conducted by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications from Oct. 19-23. It was based on landline telephone and cellphone interviews with a nationally representative random sample of 1,186 adults, including 1,041 registered voters and 839 likely voters. Interviews were conducted with 713 respondents on landline telephones and 473 on cellular phones.

One hundred thirty-one likely voters were persuadable: They did not initially choose a candidate when asked or did initially choose a candidate but said they might change their minds.

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 reflected 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 one time in 20 should chance variations in the sample cause the results to vary by more than plus or minus 3.5 percentage points from the answers that would be obtained if all adults in the U.S. were polled. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 3.8 percentage points for registered voters, plus or minus 4.2 percentage points for likely voters and plus or minus 10.6 percentage points for persuadable voters.

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.

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