By CONNIE CASS and JENNIFER AGIESTA

 WASHINGTON (AP) — Just about everybody agrees Washington is a gridlocked mess. But who’s the man to fix it? After two years of brawling and brinkmanship between President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans, more voters trust Mitt Romney to break the stalemate, an Associated Press-GfK poll shows.

Romney’s message — a vote for Obama is a vote for more gridlock — seems to be getting through. Almost half of likely voters, 47 percent, think the Republican challenger would be better at ending the logjam, compared with 37 percent for Obama.

With the race charging into its final week, Romney is pushing that idea. He increasingly portrays himself as a get-things-done, work-with-everybody pragmatist, in hopes of convincing independent voters that he can overcome Washington’s bitter partisanship. The AP-GfK poll shows the race in a virtual dead heat, with Romney at 47 percent to Obama’s 45 percent, a difference within the margin of sampling error.

At a rally Wednesday in Coral Gables, Fla., Romney recounted how he worked with the Democratic-led Legislature as governor of Massachusetts and insisted he would find common ground with Democrats in Washington, too: “We can’t change course in America if we keep attacking each other. We’ve got to come together and get America on track again.”

Obama made his own show of bipartisanship Wednesday, touring superstorm Sandy devastation alongside Republican Gov. Chris Christie in New Jersey. A major Romney supporter, Christie has been praising Obama’s “outstanding” response to the natural disaster.

Obama counters the Washington gridlock question by predicting that Republican lawmakers focused on opposing his re-election will become more cooperative once he wins a second term and becomes ineligible to run again. Referring to the top Republicans in Congress, Obama joked he would “wash John Boehner’s car” or “walk Mitch McConnell’s dog” to help get a federal deficit-cutting deal.

Obama also argues that Romney is more conservative these days than when he was elected governor and will find his newer ideas don’t go down easily with Senate Democrats. For example, Romney, who worked with legislators to pass a health care overhaul in Massachusetts, has vowed to repeal the Democrats’ similar national health care law.

In the AP-GfK poll, about 1 out of 6 likely voters didn’t take a side on the gridlock issue: 6 percent weren’t sure who would do a better job at getting Washington moving and 10 percent didn’t trust either man to break the impasse among congressional partisans.

“They all need to be taken by the ear by a grandma,” voter Margaret Delaney, 65, said in frustration.

She lives in Janesville, Wis., the hometown of Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan, and she’s leaning toward voting for the GOP ticket. But when it comes to ending gridlock, Delaney thinks it may not matter whether Romney or Obama is president.

“I’m not sure either of them can do it,” she said.

A political standoff last year came close to forcing the government to default on its bills and led Standard & Poor’s to downgrade the United States’ credit rating. Over the past two years, a Congress split between Republican and Democratic leadership posted one of the least productive sessions in history.

When lawmakers return after Election Day for a lame-duck session, they need to work together with Obama to solve some festering troubles, including the “fiscal cliff” — a looming combination of higher taxes and spending cuts that could trigger another recession if Congress doesn’t find a resolution.

If re-elected, Obama will almost certainly face another two years or more of divided government. Polling in the states suggests Republicans are likely to keep the control of the U.S. House that they won in 2010. And tea partyers who stymied efforts to reach a deficit-reduction deal seem certain to remain a substantial presence.

There’s a good chance that a President Romney would face a split Congress, as well. Democrats appear to have an edge in holding onto their Senate majority, especially if the presidential race remains close. At least a dozen of the 33 Senate races remain competitive, making the overall outcome tough to predict.

Obama also likes to remind Democrats and like-minded independent voters that he serves as a check on congressional Republicans. The president suggests Romney would be unwilling to stand up to “the more extreme parts of his party.”

Leigh Westholm of Pensacola, Fla., said that’s why she supports Obama’s re-election even though she doesn’t think he will be able to make peace with House Republicans.

“It takes two to tango and he has tried and tried for four years,” Westholm said. “It might be better for Romney, but I don’t agree with his views.”

But Romney supporter Gary Bivins, a 57-year-old West Chester, Ohio, retiree volunteering in his first presidential campaign, says don’t blame Congress.

A president needs the ability to lead, he said, and “I think Obama has shown no skill in that area.”

The Associated Press-GfK Poll was conducted Oct. 19-23 by GfK Roper Public Affairs and 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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AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius and AP writers Todd Richmond in Wisconsin, Melissa Nelson-Gabriel in Pensacola, Dan Sewell in Cincinnati and Kasie Hunt in Florida contributed to this report. The questions and results are available at http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com .

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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 AP-GfK poll was conducted

 The Associated Press-GfK poll on gridlock in Washington 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://surveys.ap.org and http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com.

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

Kayla Mueller’s brother: Swap with Taliban raised IS demands

PRESCOTT, Ariz. (AP) — The brother of an American woman who was killed after spending months as a hostage of Islamic State militants says Kayla Mueller’s situation worsened after the government traded five Taliban commanders for a captive U.S. soldier.

The militants increased their demands after the May swap for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, Eric Mueller told NBC’s “Today” in an interview that aired Monday.

“That made the whole situation worse because that’s when the demands got greater,” he said. “They got larger. They realized that they had something.”

Mueller’s death was confirmed Feb. 10 by her family and U.S. officials. The Islamic State group claimed she died in a Jordanian airstrike, but U.S. officials have not confirmed that. The Pentagon said it didn’t know how she was killed.

The 26-year-old international aid worker, who grew up in Prescott, Arizona, was captured in August 2013 after leaving a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Aleppo, Syria.

Mueller’s brother and parents spoke to “Today” host Savannah Guthrie. The family has declined repeated requests for an interview with The Associated Press.

Mueller’s father, Carl Mueller, said that the United States’ willingness to swap for Bergdahl but not pay ransom or allow ransom to be paid for his daughter “was pretty hard to take.”

“I actually asked the president that question when we were in the White House,” he said without elaborating.

Mueller’s parents said in the interview that the U.S. government put policy ahead of American lives.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday that the Mueller family had been put in a difficult position by the U.S. policy against making concessions to terrorists, but he defended it as being in the best interests of the nation.

“The president is confident that his administration did do everything that was possible within the confines of that policy — using our military might, using our intelligence capability, using our diplomatic influence — to try to secure the safe release and return of Kayla Mueller,” Earnest said.

A recent Associated Press-GfK poll found that only 3 in 10 Americans think the United States should pay a ransom to save an American hostage overseas, even if it’s the only way to rescue the hostage. A quarter of Americans say there are circumstances when the United States should directly negotiate with a terrorist group.

The poll of 1,045 adults was conducted online Jan. 29-Feb. 2. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

The Obama administration has defended the Bergdahl swap. Some U.S. lawmakers were outraged by the exchange of five Taliban commanders held at the Guantanamo Bay prison for the Idaho native who left his post in Afghanistan and was captured and held by the Taliban for five years.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff unanimously supported the exchange, insisting that the United States has a sacred commitment to men and women who serve that it never will leave anyone behind on the battlefield.


AP-GfK Poll: Most back Obama plan to raise investment taxes

WASHINGTON (AP) — The rich aren’t taxed enough and the middle class is taxed too much. As for your taxes, you probably think they’re too high as well.

Those are the results of an Associated Press-GfK poll that found that most people in the United States support President Barack Obama’s proposal to raise investment taxes on high-income families.

The findings echo the populist messages of two liberal senators — Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont — being courted by the progressive wing of the Democratic Party to run for president in 2016. The results also add weight to Obama’s new push to raise taxes on the rich and use some of the revenue to lower taxes on the middle class.

Obama calls his approach “middle-class economics.”

It’s not flying with Republicans in Congress, who oppose higher taxes.

But Bob Montgomery of Martinsville, Virginia, said people with higher incomes should pay more.

“I think the more you make the more taxes you should pay,” said Montgomery, who is retired after working 40 years at an auto dealership. “I can’t see where a man makes $50,000 a year pays as much taxes as somebody that makes $300,000 a year.”

According to the poll, 68 percent of those questioned said wealthy households pay too little in federal taxes; only 11 percent said the wealthy pay too much.

Also, 60 percent said middle-class households pay too much in federal taxes, while 7 percent said they paid too little.

Obama laid out a series of tax proposals as part of his 2016 budget released this month. Few are likely to win approval in the Republican-controlled Congress. But if fellow Democrats were to embrace his ideas, they could play a role in the 2016 race.

One proposal would increase capital gains taxes on households making more than $500,000. In the survey, 56 percent favored the proposal, while only 16 percent opposed it.

Democrats, at 71 percent, were the most likely to support raising taxes on capital gains. Among Republicans and independents, 46 percent supported it.

Obama’s other tax plans didn’t fare as well.

About 27 percent said they favored making estates pay capital gains taxes on assets when they are inherited, and 36 percent opposed it.

Just 19 percent said they supported the president’s aborted plan to scale back the tax benefits of popular college savings plans, 529 accounts, named after a section in federal tax law. Obama withdrew the proposal after Republicans and some Democrats in Congress opposed it.

“I think that’s a poor idea,” said Jamie Starr of suburban Atlanta. “Being that I’m a mother of five children, that is a wonderful program.”

“That’s kids trying to make their own away in this world without having student loans,” she said.

Obama’s proposal to levy a new tax on banks was supported by 47 percent of those surveyed. Only 13 percent opposed it, while 36 percent were undecided.

It’s tax season, that time of the year when people are confronted by their obligations to the government. The poll found that 56 percent of us think our own federal taxes are too high, and 4 percent said they pay too little.

If taxes are increased, a slight majority said the additional money should help pay down the national debt. Using the money to cut other taxes or fund government programs were less popular options.

Republicans, in general, are more likely than Democrats to oppose higher taxes, except when it comes to low-income families.

Only 19 percent of respondents said low-income families pay too little in federal taxes, but there was a significant split between the political parties. Just 10 percent of Democrats said low-income families pay too little, while 33 percent of Republicans said they don’t pay enough.

According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the poorest 20 percent of households paid less than 1 percent of all federal taxes in 2011, the latest year for data. The top 10 percent paid more than half of all federal taxes.

That’s OK, said Sen. Sanders, an independent from Vermont, because wealthy people have seen their incomes soar while the rest of the country’s wages have been much more flat.

“Most people understand that at a time when the rich are becoming much richer, the middle class is continuing to disappear,” Sanders said. “And people also understand that the very wealthy and large corporations are able to take advantage of huge loopholes, which enable them not to pay their fair share of taxes.”

Obama has been pushing to raise taxes on the rich since his first campaign for president in 2008. He has had some success. In January 2013, Obama persuaded Republicans in Congress to let income tax rates go up for families making more than $450,000 a year. It was part of a deal that made permanent a large package of tax cuts first enacted under Republican President George W. Bush.

Some liberals are looking for a candidate to push for higher taxes on the rich in the 2016 race. Sanders and Democrat Warren would fit the profile, though Warren says she is not running for president and Sanders says he has not made up his mind.

Among Democrats, Hillary Rodham Clinton is seen as the front-runner for the nomination; she has yet to make her candidacy official.

Clinton hasn’t offered specifics on how she would approach taxes as a candidate. But she offered a glimpse of her views following Obama’s State of the Union Address in January, when she tweeted that Obama “pointed way to an economy that works for all. Now we need to step up & deliver for the middle class. #FairShot #FairShare.”

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The AP-GfK Poll of 1,045 adults was conducted online Jan. 29-Feb. 2, using a sample drawn from GfK’s probability-based KnowledgePanel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

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 access at no cost to them.

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Online:

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

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