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: No agreement on how to pay for highways

By JOAN LOWY and JENNIFER AGIESTA, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Small wonder Congress has kept federal highway and transit programs teetering on the edge of insolvency for years, unable to find a politically acceptable long-term source of funds. The public can’t make up its mind on how to pay for them either.

Six in 10 Americans think the economic benefits of good highways, railroads and airports outweigh the cost to taxpayers. Yet there is scant support for some of the most frequently discussed options for paying for construction of new roads or the upkeep of existing ones, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll.

Among those who drive places multiple times per week, 62 percent say the benefits outweigh the costs. Among those who drive less than once a week or not at all, 55 percent say the costs of road improvement are worthwhile.

Yet a majority of all Americans — 58 percent — oppose raising federal gasoline taxes to fund transportation projects such as the repair, replacement or expansion of roads and bridges. Only 14 percent support an increase. And by a better than 2-to-1 margin, Americans oppose having private companies pay for construction of new roads and bridges in exchange for the right to charge tolls. Moving to a usage tax based on how many miles a vehicle drives also draws more opposition than support — 40 percent oppose it, while 20 percent support it.

Support for shifting more responsibility for paying for such projects to state and local government is a tepid 30 percent.

“Congress is actually reflecting what people want,” said Joshua Schank, president and CEO of the Eno Center for Transportation, a transportation think tank. “People want to have a federal (transportation) program and they don’t want to pay for it.”

Last week, Congress cobbled together $10.8 billion to keep transportation aid flowing to states by changing how employers fund worker pension programs, extending customs user fees and transferring money from a fund to repair leaking underground fuel storage tanks. The money was needed to make up a shortfall between aid promised to states and revenue raised by the federal 18.4 cents-per-gallon gas tax and the 24.4 cents-per-gallon diesel tax, which haven’t been increased in more than 20 years.

It’s the fifth time in the last six years that Congress has patched a hole in the federal Highway Trust Fund that pays for highway and transit aid. Each time it gets more difficult for lawmakers to find the money without increasing the federal budget deficit. Critics described the pension funding changes used this time as budget gimmicks that would cost the government more in the long run and undermine employee pension programs.

The latest patch cleared Congress about three hours before midnight last Thursday, the day before the Transportation Department said it would begin cutting back aid payments to states. The current fix is only expected to cover the revenue gap through next May, when Congress will be back where it started unless lawmakers act sooner.

The most direct solution would be to raise fuel taxes. That’s what three blue-ribbon federal commissions have recommended. But opposition to a gas tax increase cuts across party lines, although Republicans are more apt to oppose an increase, 70 percent, than Democrats, 52 percent.

“Every time we turn around there’s another tax, and our gas taxes are so high now,” said James Lane, 52, of Henry County in rural south-central Virginia, who described himself as leaning toward the GOP.

Lane favors allowing companies to pay for the construction of new or expanded roads and bridges in exchange for the right impose tolls on motorists, often for many decades. There have been projects like that in Virginia, but since those roads are in more populated areas of the state where he doesn’t drive it makes sense to have the people who use them pay for them, he said.

But Michael Murphy, 63, a data services contractor who lives near San Antonio, Texas, where a high-speed public-private toll road is scheduled to open this fall, said he’d rather see gas taxes increased than tolls imposed on drivers. Roads benefit everyone, even if indirectly, so it’s only fair that everyone who drives pays something toward their cost, he said.

A majority of those surveyed, 56 percent, say traffic in the area where they live has gotten worse in the last five years. Only 6 percent say traffic has improved in their area, and 33 percent that it’s stayed about the same.

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted July 24-28 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. It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points for all respondents, 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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Online:

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

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Follow Joan Lowy on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/AP_Joan_Lowy


AP-GfK poll: Americans ready to close the book on wars in Iraq, Afghanistan

By DEB RIECHMANN, Associated Press

 WASHINGTON (AP) — Three in four Americans think history will judge the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as failures, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll that shows that about the same percentage think it was right to pull forces from the two countries.

Americans surveyed in last month’s poll were not optimistic about the chance that a stable democratic government will be established in either country. Seventy-eight percent said it was either not too likely or not at all likely in Afghanistan and 80 percent said the same about Iraq.

Roughly three out of four Americans polled think that in hindsight, each war will be deemed as an outright “complete failure” or “more of a failure than success.”

A majority of those polled, or 70 percent, said the United States was right to withdraw American troops from Iraq in 2011 and pull most U.S. forces out of Afghanistan by December. The two conflicts have consumed the nation for more than a decade and claimed the lives of 6,800 U.S. troops.

Nelson Philip, 73, of Oswego, Illinois, is of two minds. He judges the Afghan war a failure, but wants U.S. troops to stay in countries that remain in turmoil.

“What’s so successful about it? We didn’t do anything there. The Taliban. They’re still there. We haven’t done anything and now we’re pulling everybody out of there,” Philip said. “And now this Islamic group is over there taking over Iraq.”

The situations in Afghanistan and Iraq are distinct. But in each, the U.S. has spent more than a decade trying to set up democratic governments that could effectively police their own territories and stamp out threats to the American homeland. And in both countries that objective is in peril — their futures threatened by a combination of poor leadership, weak institutions, interethnic rivalry, insurgencies and extremist rebellions.

Americans surveyed in the poll think more bad news is on the horizon.

Fifty percent — up 18 points in the past seven months — think the situation in Afghanistan will get worse. Fifty-eight percent — up from 16 percent in December 2009 — expect conditions in Iraq will worsen. The poll was conducted shortly after Sunni extremists conducted an offensive that shattered security in Iraq.

The rapid advance by the extremist Islamic State group, which captured Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, and overran much of northern and western Iraq, has plunged the country into its worst crisis since the withdrawal of U.S. troops at the end of 2011.

Melody Fisher, a 58-year-old midwife from Prescott, Ariz., was among the roughly 25 percent who didn’t think it was time yet for American troops to return from Afghanistan, where about 2,340 U.S. servicemen and women have been killed. She said she wasn’t convinced that the U.S. had finished its work there.

“I used to work with refuges so I’m very aware of the conditions that people have to live in,” said Fisher, a midwife who spent time helping resettle Cambodian refugees. “Our country, our nation, has no idea about the day-to-day things that people have to go through in many places.”

People over 50 expressed far more pessimism about the ultimate outcome of the two conflicts than their younger counterparts.

Sixty-two percent of those over 50 said the situation in Afghanistan would get worse in the coming year, compared with 40 percent of younger Americans. On Iraq, that gap is even larger, with 72 percent age 50 or older expecting things to get worse compared with 47 percent of those under age 50.

Older Americans also are more likely to think the U.S. war in Afghanistan will be judged a failure in the future; 86 percent of those 50 or older feel that way, compared with 64 percent among those under age 50. They are also more likely to doubt that a stable democratic government will be established there; 88 percent age 50 or older say it’s unlikely to happen compared with 70 percent age 18 to 49.

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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Associated Press director of polling Jennifer Agiesta in Washington contributed to this report.

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Online:

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