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.

AP-GfK POLL: PARENTS UNCOMFORTABLE WITH YOUTH FOOTBALL

Parents are worried about their children playing football, but most haven’t decided to keep their kids from putting on a helmet and stepping onto the field.

According to an Associated Press-GfK poll, nearly half of parents said they’re not comfortable letting their child play football amid growing uncertainty about the long-term impact of concussions.

In the poll, 44 percent of parents weren’t comfortable with their child playing football. The same percentage was uncomfortable with ice hockey, and 45 percent were uncomfortable with participation in wrestling. Only five percent, though, said they have discouraged their child from playing in the last two years as concern over head injuries has increased at all levels of the game.

The majority of parents said they are comfortable with participation in a host of other sports — including swimming, track and field, basketball, soccer, baseball and softball, among others.

The AP-GfK poll was conducted from July 24-28. It included interviews with 1,044 adults and has a sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

The parents’ concern comes as several high-profile lawsuits have challenged how concussions have been addressed in pro and college sports. Thousands of pro players sued the NFL and a $675 million settlement that would compensate them for concussion-related claims is pending. A tentative settlement with the NCAA, meanwhile, would create a $70 million fund to test thousands of current and former college athletes for brain trauma.

Youth and high school programs have increased training available for coaches, and helmet companies are releasing new designs with the hope that they reduce the force of impact. But research is murky about whether or not they will be effective.

Participation statistics also show only a slight decline in the overall number of high school students playing football.

According to the National Federation of State High School Associations, nearly 1.1 million students played 11-man football during the 2012-13 school year. The number was down approximately 10,000 from the year before and more than 20,000 since 2009-08.

Cathy Curtin, a high school rifle coach in northeast Pennsylvania, is one parent who has discouraged her children from playing football in recent years.

Curtin, 52, has gone through concussion-related training for her job, but one issue that concerns her is how much of identifying a head injury relies on the student’s input following a collision. She said her 21-year-old son “would have said anything” to remain in the game while in high school, including hiding symptoms such as dizziness from a trainer or coach.

“Our training staff is good, but you can’t always know,” Curtin said. “You’re basing whether they can play on their say. And they are 16-year-old kids, 17-year-old kids who want more than anything to get out there and play.”

Curtin said her younger son broke his collarbone and leg while playing football as a freshman.

“Nowhere in that time did they check him for a concussion,” Curtin said. “So, if he got hit hard enough to break his collar bone and his leg, then how hard did he hit the ground, too?”

Football wasn’t the only sport Curtin said she was uncomfortable with. She also worries about hockey, wrestling and other high-impact competitions such as gymnastics and cheerleading. She’s encouraged by new advances — such as chin straps that change color when a player may have suffered a concussion — aimed at reducing and identifying head injuries, but she is also skeptical about school districts’ ability to afford new helmets.

JeMare Williams, 43, is no stranger to the possibility of getting a concussion while playing football. He thinks he “probably” suffered from one while in high school in St. Louis.

“I don’t really know, but I remember being hurt, being dizzy,” Williams said. “But during that time, there wasn’t a specific diagnosis like now.”

Now living in Henderson, Nevada, and with 17- and 11-year-old sons who play the game, Williams — an auto mechanic — has the same injury concerns as many parents. That said, he’s comfortable with his sons playing football — or any other sport they choose.

One of the primary reasons for Williams’ comfort level is because of the increased attention paid to head injuries over the last few years. He said coaches are trained more closely now to teach proper tackling techniques, as well as watch players for signs of concussions.

“There’s a lot of publicity on (concussions) now, and I think that makes it better,” Williams said. “So, I’m not as worried now.”


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