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 finds most NFL fans believe Commissioner Roger Goodell should keep job

By RACHEL COHEN, Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — Most NFL fans believe Commissioner Roger Goodell should keep his job after his handling of recent domestic violence cases, according to a new Associated Press-GfK Poll.

Only 32 percent say Goodell should lose his job over the issue, with 66 percent saying he shouldn’t.

Support for his handling of the cases is much lower, though, with 42 percent saying they disapprove. The same percentage neither approve nor disapprove, with just 15 percent approving.

Goodell initially suspended Ray Rice for two games after the Baltimore Ravens running back was charged with assaulting his then-fiancee. The commissioner defended the punishment at first, before admitting more than a month later that he “didn’t get it right.”

When a video of the assault later surfaced, Goodell suspended Rice indefinitely, saying the images constituted new evidence. Rice was released earlier that day by the Ravens.

The poll shows strong support for keeping Rice off the field for at least some period of time. Forty-three percent of fans say Rice should never be allowed to play again. Just 7 percent say he should be able to play now, with 49 percent saying he should be permitted to return after missing more time.

Opinions differed by gender and race. Slightly more than half of women say Rice should never be allowed to play again, compared with 37 percent of men. Just 19 percent of black fans say he should receive a permanent ban, while 46 percent of white fans support that.

Respondents were more receptive to the idea of Minnesota Vikings star running back Adrian Peterson returning to the field. Peterson is currently on paid leave while he faces child abuse charges.

Fifty-four percent of fans say he should be allowed to play again if he is found not guilty, and another 29 percent say he should be able to return regardless of the case’s outcome. Only 15 percent say he should never play again.

Answers to this question also varied by gender and race. Thirty-four percent of men say Peterson should be allowed to return under any circumstances, compared with 22 percent of women. And 45 percent of black fans say he should be able to return no matter the verdict, while only 25 percent of white fans say that.

The poll suggests that the recent spate of highly publicized domestic violence cases has made a small dent in the NFL’s popularity. An AP-GfK Poll conducted in January found that 49 percent of respondents considered themselves fans of pro football. That number dropped to 43 percent in the current poll.

In January, 19 percent of respondents said their interest in the sport had increased in the previous five years, with 12 percent saying it had decreased. This time, 12 percent say it has increased while 15 percent say it has decreased.

Of the group with less interest, 42 percent say the recent domestic violence arrests have been an extremely or very important factor in that drop.

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted Sept. 25-29 using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It included online interviews with 1,845 adults, including 836 NFL fans. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 2.5 percentage points for all respondents and plus or minus 3.8 percentage points for the NFL fans.

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AP News Survey Specialist Emily Swanson contributed to this report.


AP-GfK Poll: Americans not confident in US government’s ability to minimize range of threats

By JILL COLVIN and JENNIFER AGIESTA, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans lack confidence in the government’s ability to protect their personal safety and economic security, a sign that their widespread unease about the state of the nation extends far beyond politics, according to the latest Associated Press-GfK poll.

With Election Day about a month away, more than half those in the survey said Washington can do little to effectively lessen threats such as climate change, mass shootings, racial tensions, economic uncertainty and an unstable job market.

“I think what we’ve got going on here in America is the perfect storm of not good things,” said Joe Teasdale, 59, who lives in southwest Wisconsin and works as an assistant engineer at a casino.

For many of those questioned in the poll, conducted before doctors in Texas diagnosed a Liberian man with the Ebola virus, the concern starts with the economy.

The poll found that 9 in 10 of those most likely to vote in the Nov. 4 election call the economy an extremely or very important issue. Teasdale is among those who say the slow recovery from the recession is a top concern.

Despite improvements nationally, business is far from booming in his state, Teasdale said. He’s been supplementing his stagnant salary by renovating and renting out duplexes and has little faith the situation will improve soon. He wants government to get out of the way of business.

“If you’re putting so much restriction on them where it isn’t practical for them to expand or grow, why should they?” Teasdale asked.

Those surveyed also pointed to events such as the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, that followed the fatal police shooting an unarmed black 18-year-old and the beheading of a woman in an Oklahoma food processing plant, apparently at the hand of a suspended co-worker.

“This is the first time I’ve felt insecure in my own country,” said Jan Thomas, 75, of Stevensville, Montana. “Especially after the beheading in Oklahoma. That’s scary.”

The poll found that Democrats tend to express more faith in the government’s ability to protect them than do Republicans. Yet even among Democrats, just 27 percent are confident the government can keep them safe from terrorist attacks. Fewer than 1 in 5 say so on each of the other issues, including climate change.

“There’s too many people who still don’t believe that it’s happening,” bemoaned Felicia Duncan, 53, who lives in Sharonville, Ohio, a suburb of Cincinnati, and works as an office manager at a mechanical contracting company.

Urbanites tend to be more confident the government will keep them safe from terrorist threats than do people living in suburbs and rural areas. Younger Americans are more confident than older people that the government can minimize the threat of mass shootings. When it comes to quelling racial tensions, Hispanics are more confident than are blacks and whites.

Thirteen years after the Sept. 11 attacks, and as the Obama administration conducts airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq, only 1 in 5 in the poll say they are extremely or very confident the government can keep them safe from another terrorist attack. Four in 10 express moderate confidence.

While there has not been a large-scale terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11, roughly one-third of Americans say they are not too confident or not confident at all in the government’s ability to prevent another.

Bill Denison, 85, who lives in Bradenton, Florida, is among the minority who thinks the government is doing a good job keeping citizens safe, at least when it comes to preventing domestic attacks.

“Overall I think that the best job that we’ve done in this country is with anti-terrorism,” he said. “We’re doing a magnificent job and so far it’s been pretty successful.”

Still, he expressed disbelief at the recent security breaches involving Secret Service agents, including an incident in which a man scaled the White House fence and made his way deep into the executive mansion.

“The fact that a guy can run into the White House is pretty disturbing,” he said. “But we’re only human. And humans are going to make mistakes.”

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted September 25-29, 2014, using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,845 adults, and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points for all respondents.

Respondents were selected randomly using telephone or mail survey methods, and later interviewed. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were given free access.

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Associated Press writer Janet McConnaughey in New Orleans contributed to this report.

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Online:

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