By ALAN FRAM and JENNIFER AGIESTA

 WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans prefer letting tax cuts expire for the country’s top earners, as President Barack Obama insists, while support has declined for cutting government services to curb budget deficits, an Associated Press-GfK poll shows. Fewer than half the Republicans polled favor continuing the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy.

There’s also a reluctance to trim Social Security, Medicare or defense programs, three of the biggest drivers of federal spending, the survey released Wednesday found. The results could strengthen Obama’s hand in his fiscal cliff duel with Republicans, in which he wants to raise taxes on the rich and cut spending by less than the GOP wants.

As Obama and Republicans joust over ways to avoid tumbling over the cliff when the new year begins, the poll offers scant evidence that the public is willing to sacrifice much when it comes to specific cuts in the name of budget austerity.

 Social Security, Medicare and defense account for just over half the $3.8 trillion the government is projected to spend this year. Voters typically voice support for deficit reduction but shy away from painful, detailed cuts to achieve it.

In the poll, 48 percent said tax cuts should expire in January on earnings over $250,000 but continue for lower incomes. An additional 32 percent said the tax cuts should continue for everybody, which has been the view of Republican lawmakers who say raising taxes on the wealthy would squelch their ability to create jobs. Thirteen percent said the tax cuts dating back to 2001 and 2003 should end for all.

 ”If you are fortunate and have some extra, you need to help those who don’t,” said Robin Keck, 49, of Golden Valley, Minn., who owns a framing business and supports ending tax cuts for the rich. “I believe people who have more money generally find more uses for it than putting other people to work.”

 A November 2010 AP-CNBC poll showed similar support for allowing the cuts to expire for people with the largest incomes. Polling earlier in that year had shown a preference for continuing the cuts for everyone, including the wealthy.

 Support for renewing the tax cuts for everyone has ebbed among Republicans since 2010, dropping from a high of 74 percent just after the GOP recaptured the House in that year’s elections to 48 percent now. Among Democrats, support for allowing tax cuts for the wealthy to expire was a robust 61 percent, though down slightly from two years ago.

Unless the two parties strike a deal, the new year will begin with the triggering of broad spending cuts plus tax boosts on almost every taxpayer. Economists warn that the brew of sharp deficit cuts — nicknamed the fiscal cliff — could revive the recession.

 The battle is occurring when the public trusts the two parties about equally to handle the deficits. Democrats have a slight edge on handling taxes but enjoy a much bigger preference when it comes to addressing Medicare, according to the poll.

 Obama was re-elected last month insisting that taxes be raised on the rich as their contribution to deficit reduction. He has proposed continuing Bush-era tax cuts for all but the country’s top earners, letting taxes rise on income exceeding $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for couples.

 Though Republican lawmakers have long opposed raising taxes on the highest earners, GOP leaders have proposed curbing unspecified tax deductions to avert the fiscal cliff, raising revenue that House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, says could come from upper-income people.

 The new poll found that, by 46 percent to 30 percent, more favor cutting government services to raising taxes to tackle budget deficits. That sentiment echoes the view of the GOP, which has emphasized spending cuts during four years of budget battles with Obama.

 Yet support for trimming government services has dropped in AP-GfK polls. It was 56 percent last February and 62 percent in March 2011.

 Still, Ray Wilkins, 58, of Belton, Mo., a warehouse worker, said, “The government’s gotten too big. The federal government tries to do just about everything.”

 Thirteen percent said budget balancing efforts should focus equally on service cuts and higher taxes, more than doubling that sentiment in previous polls.

 When it comes to specifics, people are leery.

 By 48 percent to 40 percent, more oppose proposals to gradually raise the eligibility age for Medicare from 65. Only 3 in 10 support slowing the growth of annual Social Security benefits. And more people oppose than favor cutting military spending.

 Sentiments about culling savings from Social Security and Medicare were similar among Democrats and Republicans. The strongest opposition to raising the Medicare eligibility age came from people ages 30 to 64. People 50 to 64 were most opposed to slowing the growth of Social Security benefits.

 Just over half of Democrats favor cutting defense; two-thirds of Republicans oppose it.

 People were about evenly split over an idea voiced by defeated GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney to put a dollar limit on taxpayers’ deductions.

 Another idea — ending the tax deduction for home mortgage interest in exchange for lower income tax rates — was favored 42 percent to 33 percent, slightly less support than the proposal received in 2010. Homeowners were closely divided over the proposal.

 Just over half the poll respondents say they doubt Obama will be able to reduce budget deficits during his remaining four years in office. In his first days in office in 2009, more people than not thought he would be able to do so.

The poll found little change in the nation’s partisan makeup after the contentious presidential election campaign, with 33 percent saying they consider themselves Democrats, 23 percent Republicans and 27 percent independents. That’s about the same as in AP-GfK polling over the past six months.

 The Associated Press-GfK poll was conducted Nov. 29 to Dec. 3 by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cellphone interviews with 1,002 adults nationwide. The survey has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.

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AP news survey specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.

 

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

  How the AP-GfK poll was conducted

 The Associated Press-GfK poll on Congress and the budget was conducted by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications from Nov. 29 to Dec. 3. It is based on landline telephone and cellphone interviews with a nationally representative random sample of 1,002 adults. 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 3.9 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: 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.

 


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.

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

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Online:

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