By NANCY BENAC and JENNIFER AGIESTA, Associated Press

 WASHINGTON (AP) — What gender gap?

 Less than two weeks out from Election Day, Republican Mitt Romney has erased President Barack Obama’s 16-point advantage among women, a new Associated Press-GfK poll shows. And the president, in turn, has largely eliminated Romney’s edge among men.

 Those churning gender dynamics leave the presidential race still a virtual dead heat, with Romney favored by 47 percent of likely voters and Obama by 45 percent, a result within the poll’s margin of sampling error, the survey shows.

 After a commanding first debate performance and a generally good month, Romney has gained ground with Americans on a number of important fronts, including their confidence in how he would handle the economy and their impressions of his ability to understand their problems.

 At the same time, expectations that Obama will be re-elected have slipped: Half of voters now expect the president to win a second term, down from 55 percent a month earlier.

 For all of the good news for Republicans, however, what matters most in the election endgame is Romney’s standing in the handful of states whose electoral votes still are up for grabs. And polls in a number of those battleground states still appear to favor Obama.

 As the election nears, Romney has been playing down social issues and trying to project a more moderate stance on matters such as abortion in an effort to court female voters. The AP-GfK poll, taken Friday through Tuesday, shows Romney pulling even with Obama among women at 47-47 after lagging by 16 points a month earlier.

 But now his campaign is grappling with the fallout from a comment by a Romney-endorsed Senate candidate in Indiana, who said that when a woman becomes pregnant during a rape “that’s something God intended.”

 Romney quickly distanced himself from the remark by Republican Richard Mourdock. But Obama campaign spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the incident was “a reminder that a Republican Congress working with a Republican President Mitt Romney would feel that women should not be able to make choices about their own health care.”

 A renewed focus on social issues would be an unwelcome development for Romney: Among female likely voters, 55 percent say Obama would make the right decisions on women’s issues, compared with 41 percent who think Romney would.

 Romney’s pitch to women has been focused squarely on the economy, making the case that what women want most is to ensure their families and their country are on a solid financial footing. The poll shows that message appears to be taking root.

A month ago, women favored Obama over Romney on the economy 56 percent to 40 percent. Now, the split has shifted to 49 percent for Romney and 45 percent for Obama.

 Similarly, Obama’s lead among women as the candidate who better understands the people’s problems has narrowed considerably, from a 58-36 Obama advantage last month to a 50-43 Obama edge now.

 Monica Jensen, a 55-year-old independent from Mobile, Ala., says she voted for Obama in 2008 but will shift her vote to Romney this time, largely because of the economy.

 ”I’m ready for a change,” she said. “I want to see the economy go in a different direction.”

 Ginny Lewis, a Democrat and 72-year-old retired district attorney from Princeton, Ky., says she’ll vote for Romney because “I’m tired of the Republicans blaming all the debt on Democrats, so let them take over and see what they do.”

 Not that she’s optimistic about how that will turn out, though. “I think things will get worse before they get better,” she said.

 Lindsey Hornbaker, a 25-year-old graduate student and nanny, hasn’t been swayed by Romney’s charm offensive.

 Hornbaker, interviewed Wednesday in Davenport, Iowa, where she was attending an Obama rally, said Romney can tweak his tone but not what she sees as a record focused far more on top income earners and out of touch with most working families.

 ”I heard him go out of his way to sound so moderate during the debate,” she said. “And I thought: ‘Who is this? Where did this come from?’ He may sound like he’s focused on the middle class. But where’s the record?”

 Obama, meanwhile, has been working to shore up his support among men, who tend to be more Republican than women. In the 2008 election, men broke 49 percent for Obama to 48 percent for John McCain, even though Obama got 53 percent of the vote overall. The president’s job approval ratings among men have tended to fall below his ratings among women throughout his first term.

 A month ago, Romney’s advantage among men was 13 percentage points. Now, it’s down to 5 points, with most of the shift toward Obama coming among unmarried men.

 Obama’s election chances hinge on turning out voters like Jon Gerton, a disabled construction worker from Jonesboro, Ark. Gerton’s a staunch Obama supporter — but he didn’t vote in 2008.

 ”It takes longer than four years to get things to the point where things are going better,” Gerton said. “Four years, it’s not very long.”

 There has been a gender gap in every presidential election since 1980. In 2008, women were 7 percentage points more likely than men to vote for Obama.

 Overall, people are significantly more optimistic about the economy and unemployment in the coming year than they have been at any point in AP-GfK polling going back to March 2011, when the poll first started asking those questions. And likely voters are even more optimistic than other adults.

 Nearly six in 10 likely voters think the economy will improve in the next year, up from 46 percent last month. And 42 percent think the number of unemployed Americans will drop in the next year, up from 32 percent in September.

Count Chrysta Walker, of Cedar Lake, Ind., among the voters who are sticking with Obama because they think he’s got the right solutions for the fragile economy.

 ”He’s got the middle class at heart,” says the 58-year-old Walker. On the economy, she says, Obama “did as well as could be expected because he didn’t get a lot of cooperation.”

 David Bierwirth, who owns an autograph sales business in Las Vegas, turned out at a Romney rally in Henderson this week to show his support for the GOP nominee. To Bierwirth, his vote for Romney is all about the economy.

 ”I want people back to work,” he says, “because then they will buy my products.”

 The Associated Press-GfK poll was conducted Oct. 19-23 by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cellphone interviews with 1,186 adults nationwide, including 839 likely voters. Results for the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points; for likely voters it is 4.2 points.

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Online:

http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com

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AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius and Stacy A. Anderson in Washington, Thomas Beaumont in Davenport, Iowa, and Ken Ritter in Henderson, Nev., contributed to this report.

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Follow Nancy Benac on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/nbenac

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

 

 

How the AP-GfK Poll was conducted

 The Associated Press-GfK poll on the 2012 presidential election and politics was conducted by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications from Oct. 19-23. It is 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.

 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 1 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 is plus or minus 3.8 percentage points for registered voters and plus or minus 4.2 percentage points for likely voters.

 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.

The questions and results are available at http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com .

AP-GfK Poll: Economy, other issues overshadow abortion

DENVER (AP) — As a season of campaigning enters its final, intense weekend, a new Associated Press-GfK poll illustrates the challenge ahead for candidates and their allies trying to rally voters around traditional wedge issues such as abortion and gay marriage. This fall, voters just have other matters on their minds.

Social issues are eclipsed by concerns about the economy, health care, the Islamic State group and Ebola, the poll finds. And hovering over each of these individual issues is a broad dissatisfaction with President Barack Obama and Republican leaders in Congress.

Only 32 percent of likely voters called gay marriage an important issue, compared with 91 percent ranking the economy important, 78 percent with similar concerns about health care and 74 percent naming Ebola important. The issue that some Democrats have emphasized most of all — abortion rights — also has been a relatively low priority, with only 43 percent of likely voters in a September poll ranking it important.

Yet women’s health and reproductive rights have been at the center of campaigns for U.S. Senate in Alaska, Iowa, North Carolina and especially Colorado. There, half of the ads aired by Democratic Sen. Mark Udall and those backing his re-election have criticized his GOP opponent, Rep. Cory Gardner, on women’s health issues. They include a contention the 40-year-old congressman from eastern Colorado wants to ban some forms of birth control.

“Democrats this year clearly think that all that you need is that silver bullet of social issues,” said Katy Atkinson, a GOP political official in Denver. “It’s not. You need more.”

Gardner may have been able to parry the offensive by proposing that birth control pills be sold over-the-counter, without a prescription. After he began airing an ad on his proposal last month — as security concerns rose amid U.S. military action against the Islamic State group in the Middle East and the West Africa outbreak of the Ebola virus — Gardner moved ahead in public polls.

Gardner isn’t the only Republican to propose the sale of birth control over-the-counter. So, too, have Republicans running for Senate in North Carolina, Virginia and Minnesota.

The issue of access to birth control has also found its way into the Senate race in Iowa, where Democratic Rep. Bruce Braley has hammered his Republican opponent, state Sen. Joni Ernst, for her support of bestowing personhood status on a fetus. He says that would outlaw abortion, in-vitro fertilization and most kinds of contraception; she says she supports access to birth control and abortion in some circumstances.

Some voters have scoffed at the emphasis.

“They do a lot of yapping about how contraceptives have to do a lot with women’s health, which is a load of crap,” said Donald Johnson, 82, a staunch Republican in Clinton, Iowa. “If they want contraception, they can go and get it. It doesn’t cost that much. There’s no reason the government should be paying for it.”

On both abortion and same-sex marriage, recent AP-GfK polling has found likely voters more apt to trust Democrats than Republicans. But on issues that have captured more of voters’ attention this midterm season, such as the economy and protecting the country, Republicans have the advantage.

Republicans have emphasized terrorism and Ebola threats in the campaign’s closing days, though the poll suggests Ebola inspires less of a partisan preference than other issues.

Cindy Nath, a 59-year-old high school teacher in Colorado Springs, is most worried about economic inequality but also has concerns about reproductive freedom. A Democrat, she’s already cast an early ballot for Udall. But the issues her students discuss are very different — the Islamic State group and Ebola. “That’s what they’re talking about,” she said. “ISIS comes up every day.”

Women’s votes have shifted sharply between presidential years and midterm elections in recent contests, according to exit polling conducted for the AP and ABC, CBS, CNN, Fox and NBC. In 2012, women broke for Obama by an 11-point margin, while in 2010, when few candidates raised social issues as a major campaign theme, they split evenly between Democratic and Republican House candidates.

Atkinson noted that social issues usually poll low in priority but can be effective in defining candidates as too extreme. That’s how Democrats have won recently in Colorado. Although polling shows Udall slightly behind, his campaign believes he can win with a superior get-out-the-vote operation and by continuing to use women’s health issues to motivate key voting groups. Democrats are particularly targeting single women, whose participation dips in midterm elections.

The model is Sen. Michael Bennet’s 2010 come-from-behind win, where he similarly focused on women’s health. Still, a gender gap cuts both ways. Several recent polls in Colorado have shown Gardner’s advantage among men outpaces Udall’s among women.

But Jill Hanauer, a Denver-based Democratic strategist, said people should not mistake a temporary issue advantage for something permanent.

“Republicans have immediate issues to run on and Democrats have much broader, long-term ones like climate change and reproductive rights,” Hanauer said. “This election is one point in time, not a long-term trend.”

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted Oct. 16-20, using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,608 adults and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points for all respondents.

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 with the ability to access the Internet at no cost to them.

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Agiesta, AP’s director of polling, reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Stacy A. Anderson and Emily Swanson contributed to this report.

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Online:

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


AP-GfK Poll: 2 of 3 Americans think the threat posed by Islamic State is very important

By DEB RIECHMANN and EMILY SWANSON, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Sixty-five percent of Americans now say the threat from the Islamic State group is very or even extremely important, and nearly half think the U.S. military response in Iraq and Syria has not gone far enough, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll. Most want to see America’s partners step up their contribution to the fight,

Less than half, 43 percent, approve of the way President Barack Obama is handling the danger posed by the extremist militants.

Greg Franke, 24, of Columbia, South Carolina, was among the 55 percent of those who disapproved. Franke, a 24-year-old assistant editor at a research library, said he thought Obama was too hesitant in responding to the militants, who have employed brutal tactics to swiftly seize territory.

“I understand the need to be hesitant, but this was a group that was marching across parts of the Middle East, which is already unstable,” Franke said. “I think it warranted a swift and more decisive response.”

“I also think that his declaration that U.S. troops would not be involved was premature,” he said. “I don’t want U.S. troops involved. But I don’t think we need to close doors.”

A majority, 66 percent, favor the airstrikes the United States has been launching against the militants, yet 65 percent of those surveyed say Obama has not clearly explained America’s goal in fighting the Islamic State group. The president met with his national security team on Friday to discuss the Islamic State and talk via video teleconference with U.S. officials at the American Embassy in Baghdad and consulates in Irbil and Basra.

Here’s a look at the poll:

IS ENOUGH BEING DONE?

Forty-six percent said the U.S. military response has not gone far enough — up from 40 percent in September. Fifty-six percent said the military response from countries that have joined the U.S. in the fight against Islamic State militants has not gone far enough. The U.S. and partner countries, including Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have been bombing Islamic State targets since August.

“It shouldn’t just be us. It shouldn’t just be ‘Oh, the United States is policing.’ It should be everyone is there policing and everybody believes this is wrong and everyone — worldwide — is trying to stop this,” said Kathy Robinson, 24, a Sterling, Virginia, woman who works at an information technology company.

At the same time, she thinks the United States eventually will put troops on the ground in the region “just to make sure nothing starts back up — to keep the peace.”

Only 32 percent think Obama has done a good job in clearly stating U.S. policy against the IS group. More than six in 10 of them think it’s either not likely or only moderately likely that the U.S. and its partners will achieve their goal in fighting IS.

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ARE AMERICANS FOLLOWING DEVELOPMENTS IN IRAQ, SYRIA?

While 47 percent of those surveyed said there’s a very or extremely high risk of another terror attack inside the United States, just a third said they have been keenly following the news about the U.S. military action against IS. An additional 38 percent said they were following the action somewhat closely, and 31 percent said they were keeping up not too closely or not closely at all.

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DO PEOPLE SUPPORT THE AIRSTRIKES?

While Americans support the airstrike, when it comes to supporting the idea of deploying U.S. ground troops, respondents were more guarded.

Thirty-seven percent said they opposed putting American forces on the ground, 33 percent favored the idea and 28 percent said they were neither for nor against it.

Obama has said repeatedly that he has no plans to send ground troops to Iraq or Syria. However, 28 percent thought it was very or extremely likely that he would, and an additional 45 percent thought it was moderately likely. Just 24 percent said it was not likely.

Michael Rainwater, 64, of Sammanish, Washington, doesn’t particularly want to see U.S. troops sent in, but thinks they might be deployed at some point.

“I think all of these things tend to escalate,” he said. “You can’t keep pouring fuel on the fire and expect the fire to get smaller. So every time we bomb or send in armed drones, you are creating more terrorists.”

He does not think, though, that the Islamic State is in a position to mount a 9/11-style attack against the U.S.

Said Rainwater, a retired software company owner: “It is more of a criminal entity because basically what they are doing is kidnapping people for ransom, taking over oil refineries for the income.”

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The AP-GfK Poll was conducted Oct. 16-20 using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,608 adults, and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points for all respondents. Respondents were selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods, and later interviewed. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were given free access.