By SUE MANNING, Associated Press

    LOS ANGELES (AP) — Eight in 10 pet owners have taken their animals to the vet in the past year, with an overall average expenditure of $505, according to a new AP-Petside.com poll.

     Sixty percent of those who took their pets to the vet spent $300 or less, but the average expenditure was boosted higher by the one in eight pet owners (13 percent) who spent $1,000 or more.

     About one in six pet owners say their pet faced a serious illness during the year, and those pet owners spent an average of $1,092 on vet care. One percent say they took their pets to the vet and spent no money.

     Thomas Klamm, 76, of Boone, Iowa, says he and his wife Beverly spent $3,000 on their two Chihuahuas, sisters Kati and Keli, and he would have spent more if necessary, even though his annual income is under $50,000.

     The biggest bills resulted from a spinal condition Kati had, but Klamm says he has a lot of confidence in the vets and senior students at Iowa State University’s Veterinary Teaching Hospital in nearby Ames, where the little dogs have been going since they were pups.

     According to the poll, most pet owners have faith in the treatment vets recommend. Overall, 52 percent say vets do not often recommend excessive treatment, 26 percent say that happens moderately often, 17 percent extremely or very often.

     Those whose pets had been seriously ill in the past year were no more likely than others to say that vets suggest treatments that go beyond what is reasonable and necessary.

     Among those who did not take their pets to the vet last year, 52 percent say they only take their pets to the vet “when they’re really sick” and a third say they can’t afford it at all.

     Luis Calderon, 56, of El Monte, Calif., couldn’t afford to take Buddy, his 3-year-old German shepherd, to the vet last year. Buddy was given to Calderon when the dog was 6 months old. “We have become best friends,” he says.

     Calderon, a self-employed handyman, has a wife and two kids and says work is scarce. If Buddy needed a vet, Calderon says he would have to go through public services or use credit. “We would have to get him help.”

     How much would be too much? It would depend on what was wrong and what the vet said, Calderon says. “At that point I would have to consider whether to keep him or let him go, put him to sleep,” he says.

     He hates the idea of putting limits on Buddy’s health. “But we have to survive. At this point, my mortgage is No. 1. This month is really close to the edge,” Calderon adds.

     Fifty-eight percent of those who did not take their pets to a vet in the past year said they “have a type of pet that doesn’t need much veterinary care.” Among them, 52 percent have dogs, 52 percent cats, 10 percent fish, and 5 percent birds.

     Not surprisingly, higher-income pet owners (household incomes over $50,000) were more apt to take their pets to the vet than those with incomes below $50,000 — 90 percent versus 74 percent. Forty percent of those with household incomes below $50,000 who didn’t take their pets to the vet say they can’t really afford to do so.

     Art Jones, 62, of Alameda, Calif., says two of his family’s cats died in the last year. He estimates he spent $600 on vet bills — half of that to euthanize one of the cats. The other cat died at home.

     ”But we are not so wealthy we can spend thousands on a house pet. That’s unfortunate, but that’s the truth,” Jones says.

     He says he has family friends whose dog is getting cancer treatment and the cost is nearing $10,000. “To me, that’s insane,” Jones says.

     Over the past few years, Jim Salsman, 51, of Las Vegas, paid for several $500 trips to the vet for his neighbors’ cat, Mau, after the declawed feline got in fights with other animals. Last year, the neighbors left and gave the cat to Salsman. He ended up paying another $400 in vet bills, but says he didn’t mind because his neighbors were in foreclosure and struggling, and the cat became an important member of the family.

     ”He means everything to us,” Salsman said.

     According to the poll, dog owners were a bit more likely to take their pets to the vet than cat owners — 85 percent of dog owners compared with 79 percent of cat owners. But dog owners spent a bit less — an average of $537 — than cat owners, who spent an average of $558.

     The AP-Petside.com Poll was conducted Oct. 13-17, 2011, by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cellphone interviews with 1,118 pet owners. Results among pet owners have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.

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     AP Global Director of Polling Trevor Tompson, Deputy Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta and News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.

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     Online:   http://www.petside.com/vetcost2011

 

 

How the poll of pet owners on veterinary care was conducted

 

By The Associated Press

    The Associated Press-Petside.com Poll of pet owners on veterinary care was conducted by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications from Oct. 13-17. It is based on landline and cellphone telephone interviews with a nationally representative random sample of 1,118 pet owners.

     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 one time in 20 should chance variations in the sample cause the results to vary by more than plus or minus 3.6 percentage points from the answers that would be obtained if all pet owners in the U.S. were polled.

     There are other sources of potential error in polls, including the wording and order of questions.

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

 

AP-GfK Poll: Most say filing tax returns is easy; few willing to pay more for simpler forms

By STEPHEN OHLEMACHER and JENNIFER AGIESTA, Associated Press

 WASHINGTON (AP) — Struggling to figure out your federal tax return? You’re not alone, but you’re in the minority.

With the tax filing deadline looming next week, a majority of Americans say completing a federal tax return is easy, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll.

The findings defy conventional wisdom in Washington, where politicians have made careers out of promising a simpler tax system. In another blow to advocates of tax reform, almost no one is willing to pay higher taxes in exchange for a simpler code.

“If you’ve got the equivalent of a high school degree and you know how to do math, it’s very simple,” said Sara Thornton, a small business owner from East Granby, Conn.

Only 7 percent of those surveyed say they would be willing to pay more in federal taxes if the process of filling out a tax return were easier. Some 90 percent say “no, thanks.”

“No, because I don’t know that it is that difficult,” said Alicia Brown of suburban Des Moines, Iowa. “We already pay outlandish taxes because we live in Iowa. We have very high real estate taxes.”

The tax-writing committees in Congress have spent the past several years trying to build momentum for the herculean task of simplifying the tax code. One reason it’s so difficult is there are bound to be winners and losers. Sweeping changes to precious tax breaks will undoubtedly leave some people paying more, while others pay less.

One selling point for tax reform has been a simpler tax form. Ever hear a politician say you should be able to fill out your taxes on the back of a postcard? You’ll probably hear it again during this fall’s elections.

The National Taxpayer Advocate says filers spend a total of 6.1 billion hours a year preparing tax returns, at a cost of $168 billion. According to the IRS, 90 percent of filers either pay a tax preparer or use computer software to help them fill out their returns.

But 58 percent in the AP-GfK poll say completing a federal tax return is easy. Thirty-eight percent call it hard.

Fully 86 percent who have completed their tax forms say they are extremely confident or very confident that they filled them out correctly.

Not surprisingly, higher income taxpayers are more likely to say that filling out tax forms is difficult. Wealthy people tend to have more complicated taxes because they often have multiple sources of income and they are more likely to itemize their deductions, making them eligible for more tax breaks.

Forty-five percent of those with incomes above $100,000 said it is hard, compared with 33 percent among those making less than $50,000.

Through March 28, the IRS has processed 89 million returns. About 82 percent have qualified for refunds, averaging $2,831. That’s about $207 billion in tax refunds. Almost 91 percent of returns have been filed electronically.

Americans think most of their fellow taxpayers are honest, but not all of them. On average, poll-takers estimate that about one-third of Americans intentionally cheat when filling out their tax returns.

Erma Pierce of Poplar Bluff in southeast Missouri said she thinks about half of people cheat on their taxes, and she takes a dim view of it.

“You’re not supposed to cheat, lie or steal,” Pierce said. “It’s against the Bible.”

Thornton, the small business owner in Connecticut, said her estimate depends on the definition of cheating.

“People think of cheating as a case of, I reported I have nine children and I only have two. Or I reported I only made $20,000 this year and I actually made $50,000,” Thornton said. “They think of those forms of cheating, the absolute blatant, extravagant forms.”

Thornton’s definition of cheating is broader, which is why she thinks 80 percent to 90 percent of people cheat on their taxes.

“The minor forms of cheating are things like, well, I can increase my charitable deduction by $200,” Thornton said. “Most people consider, quote, unquote padding their income tax reporting or shaving it off a little bit, they don’t necessarily view that as cheating.”

“I define that as cheating only because it really is.”

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted March 20-24, 2014 using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based online panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,012 adults, and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points for all respondents.

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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AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.

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Online:

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

Follow Stephen Ohlemacher on Twitter: http://twitter.com/stephenatap


AP-GfK Poll: Election indicators suggest GOP edge

By, JENNIFER AGIESTA, Associated Press

(AP) – The latest Associated Press-GfK poll holds bad news for President Barack Obama, but as the November elections draw closer, there are ominous signs for congressional Democrats as well.

A look at the key findings from the March poll on this year’s election and the burgeoning 2016 presidential field.

GOP GAINING GROUND

Preferences for control of Congress are tight, but Republicans have gained on Democrats since January. Thirty-six percent in last month’s poll said they would rather see the Democrats in charge of Congress and 37 percent chose Republicans.

Democrats held a narrow advantage on that question in January, when 39 percent favored the Democrats and 32 percent the Republicans.

Democrats are in the majority in the Senate while Republicans run the House.

The shift stems largely from a change among those most interested in politics.

In the new poll, registered voters who are most strongly interested in politics favored the Republicans by 14 percentage points, 51 percent to 37 percent. In January, this group was about evenly split, with 42 percent preferring Democrats and 45 percent the Republicans.

That’s not the only positive sign in the poll for the Republicans.

Favorable views of the GOP have improved, with 38 percent overall now saying they hold a favorable impression of the Party. Republicans’ positive view of their own party has increased from 57 percent in January to 72 percent now.

Even impressions of the tea party movement have shifted more positive in recent months. GOP favorability still lags behind that of the Democrats, however, with 43 percent holding a favorable view of the Democratic Party.

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CONGRESSIONAL APPROVAL STAGNANT

Congressional approval is stagnant and negative, with just 16 percent saying they approve while 82 percent disapprove. Among those who have “a great deal” or “quite a bit” of interest in politics, 90 percent disapprove, including 61 percent who strongly disapprove.

Nearly 4 in 10 (39 percent) would like to see their own member of Congress re-elected, an improvement since January. Among registered voters who say they pay a great deal of attention to politics, 44 percent say they would like to see their current member re-elected, compared with 33 percent in January.

Here, there’s a glimmer of hope for Democrats. Those who consider themselves Democrats are now more likely than Republicans to say their own member of Congress ought to be re-elected. Not all Democrats live in districts represented by Democrats, of course, but it represents a shift in opinion since January.

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WHO’S IN CHARGE

With control of Congress divided between the parties, most Americans say Obama has a lot or quite a bit of control over what the federal government does, outpacing the share who say the Democrats or Republicans in Congress are in control.

Partisans tend to see the opposition as the controlling force, with Republicans more apt than Democrats to see Obama in charge, and Democrats more likely to say the Republicans have the upper hand.

Six in 10 (62 percent) of those with a great deal or quite a bit of interest in politics say Obama has a lot or quite a bit of control of what the federal government does. Just half (51 percent) of those closely attuned to politics say Democrats in Congress exert a similar influence over what the federal government does and 40 percent say the same about Republicans in Congress.

There’s little change since December in which party Americans trust more to handle major issues.

Democrats’ strong points are on handling social issues, including same-sex marriage (31 percent prefer Democrats, 17 percent the Republicans) and abortion (30 percent prefer Democrats, 22 percent Republicans). Republicans have the edge on protecting the country, 34 percent to 16 percent, a slightly wider margin than they held on the question in December.

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LOOKING TO 2016? NOT SO MUCH

The poll measured impressions of 19 potential 2016 presidential candidates, and found that a majority of those surveyed offered an opinion about just seven of them. The other 12 have quite a lot of introducing themselves to do if they are to make a run for the White House.

Most people said either they hadn’t heard of them or skipped the question.

Hillary Rodham Clinton generated the most positive response of the bunch, with 46 percent viewing the former secretary of state and first lady favorably and 39 percent unfavorably.

Among potential GOP contenders, none generated a net positive reaction from the public, with 2012 vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan faring best – 27 percent viewed him favorably, 29 percent unfavorably.

Among Republicans, majorities have favorable impressions of Ryan and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. But in a sign that the past isn’t always prologue, nearly half of Republicans say they don’t know enough to have an opinion about former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, a large factor in the 2012 nomination fight.

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The AP-GfK Poll was conducted March 20-24, 2014 using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based online panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,012 adults, and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points for all respondents.

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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AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.

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Online:

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

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