By MARK SHERMAN, Associated Press

 WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans don’t like all the cash that’s going to super political action committees and other outside groups that are pouring millions of dollars into races for president and Congress.

 More than 8 in 10 Americans in a poll by The Associated Press and the National Constitution Center support limits on the amount of money given to groups that are trying to influence U.S. elections.

 But they might have to change the Constitution first. The Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in the Citizens United case removed limits on independent campaign spending by businesses and labor unions, calling it a constitutionally protected form of political speech.

 ”Corporate donations, I think that is one of the biggest problems today,” said Walter L. Cox Sr., 86, of Cleveland. “They are buying the White House. They are buying public office.”

Cox, a Democrat, was one of many people in the poll who do not, in spite of the high court ruling, think corporate and union campaign spending should be unlimited.

 The strong support for limiting the amount of money in politics stood alongside another poll finding that shows Americans have a robust view of the right to free speech. Seventy-one percent of the 1,006 adults in the AP-NCC poll said people should have the right to say what they please, even if their positions are deeply offensive to others.

 The ringing endorsement of First Amendment freedoms matched the public’s view of the Constitution as an enduring document, even as Americans hold the institutions of government, other than the military, in very low regard.

 ”The Constitution is 225 years old and 70 percent of Americans continue to believe that it’s an enduring document that’s relevant today, even as they lose faith in some of the people who have been given their job descriptions by the Constitution,” said David Eisner, the constitution center’s chief executive officer.

 For the first time in the five years the poll has been conducted, more than 6 in 10 Americans favor giving same-sex couples the same government benefits as opposite-sex married couples. That’s an issue, in one form or another, the Supreme Court could take up in the term that begins Oct. 1.

 More than half of Americans support legal recognition of gay marriage, although that number is unchanged from a year ago. In the past three years, though, there has been both a significant uptick in support for gay marriage, from 46 percent to 53 percent, and a decline in opposition to it, from 53 percent to 42 percent.

 Loretta Hamburg, 68, of Woodland Hills, Calif., tried to explain why support for gay marriage lags behind backing for same-sex benefits.

 ”If they’ve been in a long relationship and lived together and if it’s a true relationship, long lasting, it would be OK to have the same rights,” Hamburg said.

 But she does not support a same-sex union because “it would open up a lot of other things, like a man wanting two or three wives. I believe in marriage. They could call it something else if they want to give it a different definition. But I don’t think it’s right and that’s what I feel.”

 The poll also found a slight increase in the share of Americans who say voting rights for minorities require legal protection, although the public is divided over whether such laws still are needed. Sixty percent of Democrats say those protections are still needed, compared with 40 percent of independents and 33 percent of Republicans.

 One potential influence was that the survey was conducted amid lawsuits and political rhetoric over the validity of voter identification laws in several states. The laws mainly have been backed by Republican lawmakers who say they want to combat voter fraud. Democrats, citing academic studies that found there is very little voter fraud, have called the laws thinly veiled attempts to make it harder for Democratic-leaning minority voters to cast ballots.

 Two areas in which there has been little change in public attitudes in spite of major events are gun control and President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul.

 No matter that the Supreme Court upheld the health law, nearly three-fourths of Americans say the government should not have the power to require people to buy health insurance or pay a penalty. It didn’t matter in the poll whether the penalty was described as a tax or a fine.

 The July 20 mass shooting at a suburban Denver movie theater that killed 12 people and wounded 58 others did not move opinion on gun rights, where 49 percent oppose gun control measures and 43 percent said limits on gun ownership would not infringe on the constitutional right to bear arms.

 Retired Army Col. Glenn Werther, 62, called the Colorado shootings a “horrible thing,” but said gun control is not the answer to curbing violence. “There are crazy people out there. How you monitor that, I have no idea,” said Werther, a resident of Broad Brook, Conn., and a member of the National Rifle Association. “People are going to get guns that should not have them.”

 The National Constitution Center is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that operates a Philadelphia museum and other educational programs about the Constitution.

 The AP-NCC Poll was conducted by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications from Aug. 16-20, using landline and cellphone interviews with 1,006 randomly chosen adults. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.

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Associated Press Deputy Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta, AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius and AP writer Stacy Anderson contributed to this report.

 

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Online:

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

National Constitution Center: http://constitutioncenter.org/

 

 

How the poll was conducted

 

The Associated Press-National Constitution Center Poll on constitutional issues was conducted by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications from Aug. 16-20. It is based on landline and cellphone telephone interviews with a nationally representative random sample of 1,006 adults. Interviews were conducted with 604 respondents on landline telephones and 402 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: Most say the US is heading the wrong way, hope for new direction come November

By JENNIFER AGIESTA, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress has checked out, and the American people have noticed.

Three-quarters of Americans doubt the federal government will address the important problems facing the country this year, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll.

All told, only 28 percent of Americans think the nation is heading in the right direction, the lowest level in August of an election year since 2008. It’s about on par with 2006, when Democrats took control of the U.S. House amid a backlash to the Iraq war.

This time around, it’s not clear whether either party will benefit from the disaffection.

One-third say they hope the Republicans take control of Congress outright this fall — which the GOP can accomplish with a net gain of six seats in the U.S. Senate while holding the U.S. House. The same share want to see Democrats lead Congress — a far less likely possibility.

The final third? They say it just doesn’t matter who takes control of Congress.

Overall, just 13 percent of Americans approve of the way Congress overall is handling its job.

There are some signs in the new poll that Republicans have gained ground as the height of the campaign approaches. In May, they trailed Democrats a bit on who ought to control Congress. Partisans are about equally likely to say they’d like to see their own in charge of Congress after November 4, with about three-quarters in each party saying they hope their side winds up in control. Democrats are a bit less apt to say they want their own party to win than they were in May, 74 percent in the new poll compared with 80 percent then.

And the GOP now holds narrow advantages over Democrats on handling an array of top issues, including the economy, immigration and the federal budget.

But neither party is trusted much to manage the federal government, with 27 percent having faith in the GOP to 24 percent in Democrats. More people, 31 percent, say they trust neither party to run the federal government.

Fewer people have confidence in the federal government’s ability to make progress on the important problems and issues facing the country in 2014 than at the start of the year, with 74 percent saying they have little or no confidence. That’s a slight change from the 70 percent who said so in a December AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey. That shift in confidence stems from a small drop-off among Democrats. While 56 percent lacked confidence in December, 62 percent say the same now.

Overall, few express faith in those currently on Capitol Hill. Just 36 percent say they’d like to see their own member of Congress re-elected, 62 percent say they want someone else to win this November. So far, just three House incumbents have been ousted in primaries this year, and none in the Senate. The Congressional approval rating, 13 percent in the new poll, lags behind President Barack Obama’s 40 percent.

Though the economy pushed the nation’s “right direction” figures to historic lows in the fall of 2008, that does not seem to be the culprit in the new poll. About a third (35 percent) say the economy is in good shape, about the same as in May, and 58 percent say the economy has stayed about the same in the past month.

The decline in optimism about the country’s path in the new poll seems to mirror those in October 2013 and August 2011, when congressional inaction led to the threat of a government shutdown in 2011 and a partial one in 2013. Among Democrats, the share saying the nation is heading in the right direction dipped 11 points since May, to 49 percent, while among independents, it’s down slightly to 23 percent. Among Republicans, the 9 percent saying the country is heading the right way is similar to May. The October 2013 and August 2011 declines in right direction were also driven by sharp drops among Democrats and independents.

Among those who say they are highly likely to vote this fall, just 8 percent say they approve of the way Congress is handling its job, though 43 percent would like to see their member of Congress re-elected, a bit higher than among all adults. Republicans have an edge among this group as the party more preferred to control Congress, 43 percent to 34 percent, with 23 percent saying it doesn’t matter.

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

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Online:

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

 


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