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.

AP-GfK POLL: PARENTS UNCOMFORTABLE WITH YOUTH FOOTBALL

Parents are worried about their children playing football, but most haven’t decided to keep their kids from putting on a helmet and stepping onto the field.

According to an Associated Press-GfK poll, nearly half of parents said they’re not comfortable letting their child play football amid growing uncertainty about the long-term impact of concussions.

In the poll, 44 percent of parents weren’t comfortable with their child playing football. The same percentage was uncomfortable with ice hockey, and 45 percent were uncomfortable with participation in wrestling. Only five percent, though, said they have discouraged their child from playing in the last two years as concern over head injuries has increased at all levels of the game.

The majority of parents said they are comfortable with participation in a host of other sports — including swimming, track and field, basketball, soccer, baseball and softball, among others.

The AP-GfK poll was conducted from July 24-28. It included interviews with 1,044 adults and has a sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

The parents’ concern comes as several high-profile lawsuits have challenged how concussions have been addressed in pro and college sports. Thousands of pro players sued the NFL and a $675 million settlement that would compensate them for concussion-related claims is pending. A tentative settlement with the NCAA, meanwhile, would create a $70 million fund to test thousands of current and former college athletes for brain trauma.

Youth and high school programs have increased training available for coaches, and helmet companies are releasing new designs with the hope that they reduce the force of impact. But research is murky about whether or not they will be effective.

Participation statistics also show only a slight decline in the overall number of high school students playing football.

According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, nearly 1.1 million students played 11-man football during the 2012-13 school year. The number was down approximately 10,000 from the year before and more than 20,000 since 2009-08.

Cathy Curtin, a high school rifle coach in northeast Pennsylvania, is one parent who has discouraged her children from playing football in recent years.

Curtin, 52, has gone through concussion-related training for her job, but one issue that concerns her is how much of identifying a head injury relies on the student’s input following a collision. She said her 21-year-old son “would have said anything” to remain in the game while in high school, including hiding symptoms such as dizziness from a trainer or coach.

“Our training staff is good, but you can’t always know,” Curtin said. “You’re basing whether they can play on their say. And they are 16-year-old kids, 17-year-old kids who want more than anything to get out there and play.”

Curtin said her younger son broke his collarbone and leg while playing football as a freshman.

“Nowhere in that time did they check him for a concussion,” Curtin said. “So, if he got hit hard enough to break his collar bone and his leg, then how hard did he hit the ground, too?”

Football wasn’t the only sport Curtin said she was uncomfortable with. She also worries about hockey, wrestling and other high-impact competitions such as gymnastics and cheerleading. She’s encouraged by new advances — such as chin straps that change color when a player may have suffered a concussion — aimed at reducing and identifying head injuries, but she is also skeptical about school districts’ ability to afford new helmets.

JeMare Williams, 43, is no stranger to the possibility of getting a concussion while playing football. He thinks he “probably” suffered from one while in high school in St. Louis.

“I don’t really know, but I remember being hurt, being dizzy,” Williams said. “But during that time, there wasn’t a specific diagnosis like now.”

Now living in Henderson, Nevada, and with 17- and 11-year-old sons who play the game, Williams — an auto mechanic — has the same injury concerns as many parents. That said, he’s comfortable with his sons playing football — or any other sport they choose.

One of the primary reasons for Williams’ comfort level is because of the increased attention paid to head injuries over the last few years. He said coaches are trained more closely now to teach proper tackling techniques, as well as watch players for signs of concussions.

“There’s a lot of publicity on (concussions) now, and I think that makes it better,” Williams said. “So, I’m not as worried now.”


AP-GfK Poll: Most say the US is heading the wrong way, hope for new direction come November

By JENNIFER AGIESTA, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress has checked out, and the American people have noticed.

Three-quarters of Americans doubt the federal government will address the important problems facing the country this year, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll.

All told, only 28 percent of Americans think the nation is heading in the right direction, the lowest level in August of an election year since 2008. It’s about on par with 2006, when Democrats took control of the U.S. House amid a backlash to the Iraq war.

This time around, it’s not clear whether either party will benefit from the disaffection.

One-third say they hope the Republicans take control of Congress outright this fall — which the GOP can accomplish with a net gain of six seats in the U.S. Senate while holding the U.S. House. The same share want to see Democrats lead Congress — a far less likely possibility.

The final third? They say it just doesn’t matter who takes control of Congress.

Overall, just 13 percent of Americans approve of the way Congress overall is handling its job.

There are some signs in the new poll that Republicans have gained ground as the height of the campaign approaches. In May, they trailed Democrats a bit on who ought to control Congress. Partisans are about equally likely to say they’d like to see their own in charge of Congress after November 4, with about three-quarters in each party saying they hope their side winds up in control. Democrats are a bit less apt to say they want their own party to win than they were in May, 74 percent in the new poll compared with 80 percent then.

And the GOP now holds narrow advantages over Democrats on handling an array of top issues, including the economy, immigration and the federal budget.

But neither party is trusted much to manage the federal government, with 27 percent having faith in the GOP to 24 percent in Democrats. More people, 31 percent, say they trust neither party to run the federal government.

Fewer people have confidence in the federal government’s ability to make progress on the important problems and issues facing the country in 2014 than at the start of the year, with 74 percent saying they have little or no confidence. That’s a slight change from the 70 percent who said so in a December AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey. That shift in confidence stems from a small drop-off among Democrats. While 56 percent lacked confidence in December, 62 percent say the same now.

Overall, few express faith in those currently on Capitol Hill. Just 36 percent say they’d like to see their own member of Congress re-elected, 62 percent say they want someone else to win this November. So far, just three House incumbents have been ousted in primaries this year, and none in the Senate. The Congressional approval rating, 13 percent in the new poll, lags behind President Barack Obama’s 40 percent.

Though the economy pushed the nation’s “right direction” figures to historic lows in the fall of 2008, that does not seem to be the culprit in the new poll. About a third (35 percent) say the economy is in good shape, about the same as in May, and 58 percent say the economy has stayed about the same in the past month.

The decline in optimism about the country’s path in the new poll seems to mirror those in October 2013 and August 2011, when congressional inaction led to the threat of a government shutdown in 2011 and a partial one in 2013. Among Democrats, the share saying the nation is heading in the right direction dipped 11 points since May, to 49 percent, while among independents, it’s down slightly to 23 percent. Among Republicans, the 9 percent saying the country is heading the right way is similar to May. The October 2013 and August 2011 declines in right direction were also driven by sharp drops among Democrats and independents.

Among those who say they are highly likely to vote this fall, just 8 percent say they approve of the way Congress is handling its job, though 43 percent would like to see their member of Congress re-elected, a bit higher than among all adults. Republicans have an edge among this group as the party more preferred to control Congress, 43 percent to 34 percent, with 23 percent saying it doesn’t matter.

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted July 24-28, 2014, using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based online panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,044 adults and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points for all respondents. It is larger for subgroups.

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

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Online:

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