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.

___

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 .

___

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: 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.

 

___

 

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

 


AP-GfK Poll: Nearly 9 in 10 doubt Obama, GOP can break gridlock

WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans may not agree on much lately, but one opinion is nearly universal: There’s almost no chance that President Barack Obama, a Democrat, and the Republican Congress can work together to solve the country’s problems.

A new Associated Press-GfK poll finds just 13 percent of Americans are confident the leaders, separated by nearly 2 miles of Pennsylvania Avenue, can work together, while 86 percent have no such faith. That’s far more than the 58 percent who felt that way just after the 2010 midterm elections in which the tea party movement rose to prominence.

The doubts cross party lines: Fewer than 1 in 5 Democrats or independents have confidence the two sides can cooperate. Republicans are even more pessimistic, with just 1 in 10 confident Obama and Congress can work together.

Those who lack confidence spread the blame around: 41 percent say neither side would do enough to work together, 35 percent place more blame on the Republicans, 22 percent on the president.

Neither side holds much hope things are going to get better, either. Just 16 percent think the president is likely to restore public trust in government in the next two years, while 20 percent feel congressional Republicans will.

Robert Cole, 65, says both Democrats and Republicans deserve blame for Washington’s stalemate: “If you want to place the blame, it rests on the American voter.”

“They’re not doing their jobs, and we as the electorate are stupid in sending the same people back and expecting things to change,” said Cole, a retiree who lives in Ocala, Florida.

But not everyone sees cooperation as a positive.

“In my view, the Republicans were doing what they needed to do to block a harmful agenda coming from the executive branch,” said Ron Tykoski, 42, a paleontologist from Nevada, Texas.

What does the public think they’ll be able to do?

A majority say Obama is likely to prevent Congress from repealing the health care law passed in 2010, while nearly half say the GOP is likely to block Obama’s executive order on immigration. Another 42 percent think the GOP will block or roll back Obama’s environmental regulations. Fewer think either side will be able to enact the policies on their agenda.

Tamara Watson, 35, a high school teacher in West Columbia, South Carolina, said immigration and health care are the two issues where both sides do need to work together. She sees Republicans as the bigger roadblock.

“They have fought him his entire term and a half now, and there’s so many of them now,” she said. “It’s going to be very difficult for (Obama) to work with them when there are so many of them versus so few of his party.”

Political gridlock itself ranks pretty low on the issue scale, 47 percent call it extremely or very important compared with 83 percent who say the economy is important, 76 percent who consider health care a key issue and 64 percent who say unemployment is important.

But the issue prompts Obama’s most negative ratings overall: 66 percent disapprove of his handling of gridlock and among Democrats, 47 percent disapprove.

Approval ratings for the president and Congress are about the same as before the election, with 41 percent approval for Obama and 15 percent Congress. In general, however, the public expresses greater frustration with politics now than they did four years ago.

Looking back on last month’s elections, 52 percent say they’re disappointed with the results while 50 percent say they’re frustrated. Both figures are up significantly since 2010. About a quarter, 27 percent, say they’re angry, compared with 16 percent in 2010.

Just 37 percent say they’re hopeful when they think about the results of the elections, well below the 65 percent saying so after the 2010 elections, when the GOP took control of the House of Representatives, or the 74 percent who felt so when Obama was elected the nation’s first black president. Only 1 in 5 Americans under age 30 describe themselves as hopeful, fewer than any other age group.

More Americans say they trust neither party to handle managing the federal government than said they trust either side over the other. Nearly a third of both Democrats and Republicans say they trust neither party to handle managing the federal government, along with almost 6 in 10 independents.

But Cole says this hasn’t turned him away from politics.

“As aggravating as it is, I’m still paying attention just to see if I can find somebody out there who is going to do more than talk about cooperating and find a way forward,” he said.

The AP-GfK Poll of 1,010 adults was conducted online Dec. 4-8, 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 3.4 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.

___

On Twitter, follow Jennifer Agiesta at http://www.twitter.com/JennAgiesta and Emily Swanson at http://www.twitter.com/el_swan .

___

Online:

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