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: 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


AP-GfK poll: Americans ready to close the book on wars in Iraq, Afghanistan

By DEB RIECHMANN, Associated Press

 WASHINGTON (AP) — Three in four Americans think history will judge the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as failures, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll that shows that about the same percentage think it was right to pull forces from the two countries.

Americans surveyed in last month’s poll were not optimistic about the chance that a stable democratic government will be established in either country. Seventy-eight percent said it was either not too likely or not at all likely in Afghanistan and 80 percent said the same about Iraq.

Roughly three out of four Americans polled think that in hindsight, each war will be deemed as an outright “complete failure” or “more of a failure than success.”

A majority of those polled, or 70 percent, said the United States was right to withdraw American troops from Iraq in 2011 and pull most U.S. forces out of Afghanistan by December. The two conflicts have consumed the nation for more than a decade and claimed the lives of 6,800 U.S. troops.

Nelson Philip, 73, of Oswego, Illinois, is of two minds. He judges the Afghan war a failure, but wants U.S. troops to stay in countries that remain in turmoil.

“What’s so successful about it? We didn’t do anything there. The Taliban. They’re still there. We haven’t done anything and now we’re pulling everybody out of there,” Philip said. “And now this Islamic group is over there taking over Iraq.”

The situations in Afghanistan and Iraq are distinct. But in each, the U.S. has spent more than a decade trying to set up democratic governments that could effectively police their own territories and stamp out threats to the American homeland. And in both countries that objective is in peril — their futures threatened by a combination of poor leadership, weak institutions, interethnic rivalry, insurgencies and extremist rebellions.

Americans surveyed in the poll think more bad news is on the horizon.

Fifty percent — up 18 points in the past seven months — think the situation in Afghanistan will get worse. Fifty-eight percent — up from 16 percent in December 2009 — expect conditions in Iraq will worsen. The poll was conducted shortly after Sunni extremists conducted an offensive that shattered security in Iraq.

The rapid advance by the extremist Islamic State group, which captured Iraq’s second-largest city, Mosul, and overran much of northern and western Iraq, has plunged the country into its worst crisis since the withdrawal of U.S. troops at the end of 2011.

Melody Fisher, a 58-year-old midwife from Prescott, Ariz., was among the roughly 25 percent who didn’t think it was time yet for American troops to return from Afghanistan, where about 2,340 U.S. servicemen and women have been killed. She said she wasn’t convinced that the U.S. had finished its work there.

“I used to work with refuges so I’m very aware of the conditions that people have to live in,” said Fisher, a midwife who spent time helping resettle Cambodian refugees. “Our country, our nation, has no idea about the day-to-day things that people have to go through in many places.”

People over 50 expressed far more pessimism about the ultimate outcome of the two conflicts than their younger counterparts.

Sixty-two percent of those over 50 said the situation in Afghanistan would get worse in the coming year, compared with 40 percent of younger Americans. On Iraq, that gap is even larger, with 72 percent age 50 or older expecting things to get worse compared with 47 percent of those under age 50.

Older Americans also are more likely to think the U.S. war in Afghanistan will be judged a failure in the future; 86 percent of those 50 or older feel that way, compared with 64 percent among those under age 50. They are also more likely to doubt that a stable democratic government will be established there; 88 percent age 50 or older say it’s unlikely to happen compared with 70 percent age 18 to 49.

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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Associated Press director of polling Jennifer Agiesta in Washington contributed to this report.

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Online:

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