By ANNE GEARAN, AP National Security Writer

 WASHINGTON (AP) — Support for the war in Afghanistan has reached a new low, with only 27 percent of Americans saying they back the effort and about half of those who oppose the war saying the continued presence of American troops in Afghanistan is doing more harm than good, according to an AP-GfK poll.

 In results released Wednesday, 66 percent opposed the war, with 40 percent saying they were “strongly” opposed. A year ago, 37 percent favored the war, and in the spring of 2010, support was at 46 percent. Eight percent strongly supported the war in the new poll.

 The poll found that far fewer people than last year think the killing of Osama bin Laden by U.S. troops increased the threat of terrorism against Americans. Overall, 27 percent say the al-Qaida leader’s death resulted in an increased terror threat, 31 percent believe his death decreased the threat of terrorism and 38 percent say it has had no effect. The poll was conducted before the revelation this week of a recent al-Qaida plot to blow up a U.S.-bound airliner with an underwear bomb.

 Chris Solomon, an independent from Fuquay-Varina, N.C., is among the respondents who strongly oppose the war. He said the military mission has reached the limits of its ability to help Afghans or make Americans any safer, and he would close down the war immediately if he could. While the rationale for the war is to fight al-Qaida, most of the day-to-day combat is against an entrenched Taliban insurgency that will outlast the foreign fighters, he said.

 ”What are we really doing there? Who are we helping?” he said in an interview.

 Yet nearly half, 48 percent, said the continued presence of U.S. troops in Afghanistan is doing more to help Afghanistan become a stable democracy, while 36 percent said the opposite and 14 percent said they didn’t know. Among those opposed to the war, 49 percent say U.S. troops are hurting more than helping. Three-quarters of those who favor the war think they are doing more to help.

 Republicans are most apt to see U.S. forces as helping, with 56 percent saying so, followed by 47 percent of Democrats. Among independents, more say troops are hurting Afghanistan’s efforts to become a stable democracy (43 percent) than helping (32 percent).

President Barack Obama has promised to keep fighting forces in Afghanistan until the end of 2014, despite the declining popular support. The effort to hand off primary responsibility for fighting the war to Afghan soldiers will be the main focus of a gathering of NATO leaders that Obama will host later this month in Chicago.

 That shift away from front-line combat is expected to come next year, largely in response to growing opposition to the war in the United States and among NATO allies fighting alongside about 88,000 U.S. forces. The shift makes some military commanders uneasy, as does any suggestion that the U.S. fighting force be cut rapidly next year. Obama has promised a steady drawdown.

 Obama acknowledged the rising frustration during a surprise visit to Afghanistan last week. He signed a 10-year security pact with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and congratulated U.S. troops on the anniversary of bin Laden’s death. He told troops that he is ending the war but that more of their friends will die before it is over.

“I recognize that many Americans are tired of war,” he said then. “I will not keep Americans in harm’s way a single day longer than is absolutely required for our national security. But we must finish the job we started in Afghanistan and end this war responsibly.”

 As of Tuesday, at least 1,834 members of the U.S. military had died in Afghanistan as a result of the U.S.-led invasion in late 2001, according to an Associated Press count.

 Obama has argued that his persistence in hunting down bin Laden is one reason to re-elect him, and his on-time handling of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is another.

 Obama closed down the Iraq war on the timetable set when he took office and expanded the Afghan fight that had been neglected in favor of Iraq. He is now scaling back in Afghanistan, bringing troops home by the tens of thousands. A small U.S. counterterrorism and training force may remain in the country after 2014.

 But in a trend that complicates discussion of the war in this year’s presidential campaign, support for the war is plummeting even among Republicans. People who identified themselves as Republicans backed the war at 37 percent, down from 58 percent a year ago.

 Among Democrats, support dropped from 30 percent last year to 19 percent now. About a quarter, 27 percent, of independents favor the effort, similar to the level last year.

 The war, which will be in its 12th year on Election Day in November, has an inconclusive balance sheet at best.

 It has brought greater security to many parts of the impoverished country strategically situated between Iran and Pakistan, and largely flushed the al-Qaida terror network from its former training ground.

But the war has failed to break the Taliban-led insurgency or pressure the insurgents to begin serious peace negotiations with the U.S.-backed Afghan government. The civilian government has not capitalized on the elbow room that more than 100,000 foreign fighting forces provided to build up its own ability to govern the entire country and push the Taliban to the political fringe.

 Obama was hosting NATO’s top officer at the White House on Wednesday to finalize the agenda for NATO leaders. They are trying to show that NATO nations are committed to keep fighting now but will stick to the plan agreed at the last leaders’ summit in 2010 to end the war by 2015. But the summit will be a national security debut for France’s new Socialist leader, Francois Hollande, who has vowed to pull French troops out by the end of this year. That’s two years earlier than the rest of the alliance has pledged.

 Slightly more than half of Americans, 53 percent, said they approve of Obama’s handling of the war, while 42 percent disapprove. Obama hit a high mark in AP-GfK polling on that question a year ago, just after the killing of bin Laden. Then, 65 percent said they approved of his handling of the situation in Afghanistan.

 The poll showed 64 percent approve of Obama’s handling of terrorism issues, and 31 percent disapprove.

 Elizabeth Kabalka of Chattanooga, Tenn., said she somewhat approves of the war and is generally pleased by Obama’s handling of it. An independent voter, she said Obama is doing about as well managing the war as anyone could.

 ”He’s got a really crappy job,” she said. “I’ve been pleased with him. He’s really tried to stick to a position.”

 

The Associated Press-GfK Poll was conducted May 3-7 by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cellphone interviews with 1,004 adults nationwide and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.

 

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

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Online: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com

 

 

How the poll was conducted

 

The Associated Press-GfK Poll on terrorism and the war in Afghanistan was conducted by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications from May 3-7. It is based on landline telephone and cellphone interviews with a nationally representative random sample of 1,004 adults. Interviews were conducted with 703 respondents on landline telephones and 301 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 one time in 20 should chance variations in the sample cause the results to vary by more than plus or minus 3.9 percentage points from the answers that would be obtained if all adults 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.

 

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

 

AP-GfK Poll: End game: No immigration deal, just divisions

WASHINGTON (AP) — A Congress that began with bright hopes for immigration legislation is ending in bitter divisions on the issue even as some Republicans warn that the political imperative for acting is stronger than ever for the GOP.

In place of a legislative solution, President Barack Obama’s recent executive action to curb deportations for millions here illegally stands as the only federal response to what all lawmakers agree is a dysfunctional immigration system. Many Democrats are convinced Latino voters will reward them for Obama’s move in the 2016 presidential and Senate elections, while some Republicans fear they will have a price to pay.

“If we don’t make some down payment toward a rational solution on immigration in 2015, early 2016, good luck winning the White House,” said Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, an author of the comprehensive immigration bill that passed the Senate last year with bipartisan support, but stalled in the GOP-led House.

With the expiration of the 113th Congress this month, that bill will officially die, along with its path to citizenship for the 11 million immigrants in this country illegally.

Immigration is certain to be a focus for the new, fully Republican-led Congress when it convenes in January — but there’s little expectation the GOP will make another attempt at comprehensive reforms.

Instead, GOP leaders in the House and Senate have pledged to take action to block Obama’s executive moves, setting up a battle for late February when funding expires for the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees immigration matters. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has promised action on a border security bill as part of that.

Whether Congress can do anything to stop Obama remains unclear, since he’s certain to veto any effort to undo his executive moves. It’s also not clear lawmakers could pass a border bill, or that Obama would sign it if they did.

While some congressional Republicans are arguing for action on piecemeal reforms, most advocates are resigned to waiting until a new president takes office in 2017 for lawmakers to make another attempt at a comprehensive overhaul that resolves the central immigration dilemma — the status of the millions here illegally.

“They had the best chance in a generation and they couldn’t get enough support from the Republican caucus,” said Frank Sharry, executive director of America’s Voice, an immigrant advocacy group. “It may well be that they’re going to have to lose the White House and both chambers of Congress for us to get comprehensive immigration reform.”

When Obama won a second term in 2012 with strong Hispanic and Asian support, many national Republican leaders decided they needed to support policies that would attract those growing blocs of voters. The Republican National Committee formally embraced support for comprehensive immigration reform as a guiding principle for the GOP.

But legislative efforts stalled in the House as conservative Republicans balked at Boehner’s efforts to advance the issue. Last summer’s crisis over an influx of unaccompanied Central American minors arriving at the border caused shelter overloads and case backlogs, straining resources and creating the impression that the border was out of control — further souring political prospects for reform legislation.

In absence of congressional efforts, Obama promised he would act on his own, and he made good on that shortly after last month’s midterm elections, announcing an array of changes that will include work permits and three-year deportation stays for some 4 million immigrants here illegally. It mostly applies to those who’ve been here more than five years and have kids who are U.S. citizens or legal permanent residents.

The move inflamed Republicans, who have been fighting about it ever since, including a failed effort by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, to block Obama in a Senate floor vote this past weekend. On Tuesday the dispute spilled over into debate on Obama’s nominee to lead the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, Sarah Saldana, the U.S. attorney in Dallas. She was confirmed 55-39 by the Senate over objections from Republicans who had initially supported her but turned against her because of her support for Obama’s executive actions.

Meanwhile, some immigration advocates complained that the steps didn’t go far enough as Obama faced criticism from both sides of the political divide.

A new Associated Press-GfK poll found that most Americans support allowing immigrants living in the country illegally a way to stay here lawfully. But only 43 percent of them think Obama was right to take executive action to make those changes, while 54 percent of them say he should have kept trying to make a deal with Republicans. Still, the poll also showed little sign of blowback for Obama. Although 57 percent disapprove of Obama’s handling of the immigration issue, that was down slightly from 63 percent in October.

A group of 24 states joined in a federal lawsuit filed in Texas alleging that Obama overstepped his constitutional powers in a way that will only worsen the humanitarian problems along the southern U.S. border. And Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio is in federal court in Washington, contending that the policy is a magnet for more illegal entries into the country that will impose a burden on law enforcement.

In a court filing late Monday, the Justice Department argued for dismissal of Arpaio’s case, saying he has failed to substantiate his claims.

Congressional Republicans say that Obama’s actions created an even tougher climate for immigration legislation, but many Democrats and advocates contend that Republicans were terminally stalled on the issue anyway. Some Republicans question whether immigration legislation really is a political imperative for the GOP. “It’s really mixed out there — some people want a big immigration bill, others don’t,” said Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, a supporter of reform efforts.

And two years after a “Gang of Eight” senators launched an immigration overhaul drive on Capitol Hill, some of those same players say they have no plans to initiate another such effort.

“I’m not going to start it in the Senate,” said Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. “We’ve tried that.”

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Associated Press News Survey Specialist Emily Swanson and writer Pete Yost contributed to this report.


AP-GfK Poll: Crunch time again for health insurance sign-ups

By Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar

WASHINGTON (AP) – President Barack Obama’s push to cover America’s uninsured faces another big test Monday.

 

This time, it’s not only how the website functions, but how well the program itself works for millions who are starting to count on it.

 

Midnight Monday, Pacific time is the deadline for new customers to pick a health plan that will take effect Jan. 1, and for current enrollees to make changes that could reduce premium increases ahead of the new year.

 

HealthCare.gov and state insurance websites are preparing for heavy online traffic before the deadline, which gives consumers in the East three hours into Tuesday to enroll.

 

Wait times at the federal call center started creeping up around the middle of last week, mainly due to a surge of current customers with questions about their coverage for next year. Many will face higher premiums, although they could ease the hit by shopping online for a better deal. Counselors reported hold times of 20 minutes or longer for the telephone help line.

 

About 6.7 million people now have coverage through Obama’s signature law, which offers subsidized private insurance. The administration wants to increase that to 9.1 million in 2015. To do that, the program will have to keep most of its current enrollees while signing up more than 2 million new paying customers.

 

People no longer can be turned down because of health problems, but picking insurance still is daunting for many consumers. They also have to navigate the process of applying for or updating federal subsidies, which can be complex for certain people, including immigrants. Many returning customers are contending with premium increases generally in the mid-to-high single digits, but much more in some cases.

 

Consumers “understand it’s complicated but they appreciate the ability to get health insurance,” said Elizabeth Colvin of Foundation Communities, an Austin, Texas, nonprofit that is helping sign up low-income residents. “People who haven’t gone through the process don’t understand how complicated it is.”

 

Last year’s open enrollment season turned into a race to salvage the reputation of the White House by fixing numerous technical bugs that crippled HealthCare.gov from its first day. With the website now working fairly well, sign-up season this year is a test of whether the program itself is practical for the people it is intended to serve.

 

New wrinkles have kept popping up, even with seemingly simple features of the Affordable Care Act.

 

For example, most current customers who do nothing will be automatically renewed Jan. 1 in the plan they now are in. At this point, it looks like that is what a majority intends to do.

 

While that may sound straightforward, it’s not.

 

By staying in their current plans, people can get locked into a premium increase and miss out on lower-priced plans for 2015. Not only that, they also will keep their 2014 subsidies, which may be less than what they legally would be entitled to for next year.

 

Doing nothing appears to be a particularly bad idea for people who turned 21 this year, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington group that advocates for low-income people.

 

Researchers at the center estimate that 21-year-olds will see a 58 percent increase in the sticker price for their premiums just because they’re a year older. An age-adjustment factor used to compute premiums jumps substantially when a person turns 21. A 20-year-old whose premium was $130 per month in 2014 will see the premium climb to $205 a month in 2015, solely because of that year’s difference.

 

Tax-credit subsidies can cancel out much or even all of the impact. But if consumers default to automatic renewal, their tax credits will not be updated and they will get the same subsidy as this year.

 

“Even in the best possible scenario of how many people we can expect to come in, we will still see a substantial number of people defaulting,” said Judy Solomon, a health care policy expert at the center. She worries that some young adults may get discouraged and drop out.

 

Reviews of HealthCare.gov and state health insurance exchanges are mixed.

 

An Associated Press-GfK poll this month found that 11 percent of Americans said they or someone else in their household tried to sign up since open enrollment began Nov. 15. Overall, 9 percent said the insurance markets are working extremely well or very well. Twenty-six percent said the exchanges are working somewhat well, and 39 percent said they were not working well. The remaining 24 percent said they didn’t know enough to rate performance.

 

So far it has been a frustrating experience for Marie Bagot, of Fort Lauderdale, Florida. She and her husband are in their 60s, but not yet old enough for Medicare. The husband, who works as a chef, will turn 65 around the middle of next year and qualify for Medicare. Bagot said they were happy with their insurance this year under Obama’s law.

 

“As you get older, you worry about your health,” she said. “I was very pleased with the price we got.”

 

But Bagot said she received a notice from her insurer that her current plan will not be available next year in her community. The closest alternative would involve a premium increase of more than $350 a month, even with their tax credit subsidy. After days of trying to find a comparable plan through the federal call center and after visiting a counselor, Bagot said she opted to keep their current coverage, while hoping costs go down after her husband joins Medicare.

 

“I cannot afford it, but I’m going to try to,” she said.

 

Monday is not the last chance for consumers like Bagot. Open enrollment doesn’t end until Feb. 15.

 

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Associated Press Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report.