By ALAN FRAM and JENNIFER AGIESTA

WASHINGTON (AP) — Most Americans think jarring economic problems will erupt if lawmakers fail to increase the government’s borrowing limit. Yet they’re torn over how or even whether to raise it, leaning toward Republican demands that any boost be accompanied by spending cuts.

According to an Associated Press-GfK poll, 53 percent say that if the debt limit is not extended and the U.S. defaults, the country will face a major economic crisis. An additional 27 percent say such a crisis would be somewhat likely, while just 17 percent largely dismiss the prospects of such damage.

Separately, Republican officials said Wednesday that GOP lawmakers may seek a short-term extension of the debt limit, thus avoiding a default as early as next month by the U.S. Treasury while they try to negotiate spending cuts with President Barack Obama over the next few months. “All options are on the table as far as we’re concerned,” Rep. Paul Ryan said at a House Republicans’ retreat near Williamsburg, Va.

The poll’s findings echo many economists’ warnings that failure to raise the debt ceiling and the resulting, unprecedented federal default would risk wounding the world economy because many interest rates are pegged to the trustworthiness of the U.S. to pay its debts. Obama and many Republicans agree with that, though some GOP lawmakers eager to force Obama to accept spending cuts have downplayed a default’s impact.

When asked which political path to follow, 39 percent of poll respondents support the insistence by House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., that deep spending cuts be attached to any measure increasing the debt ceiling. That’s more than the 30 percent who back Obama’s demand that borrowing authority be raised quickly and not entwined with a bitter fight over trimming the budget.

An additional 21 percent oppose boosting the debt ceiling at all.

The survey was conducted as the two parties gird for a debt-limit battle that is likely to dominate the next two months in the capital. The fight is sure to underscore partisan differences over how to curb federal deficits that have surpassed $1 trillion for four straight years. Obama insists that besides spending cuts there should be more tax increases on the wealthy, which the GOP opposes.

While saying he will refuse to negotiate on the debt ceiling, Obama has said he will bargain separately on finding ways to reduce the annual federal deficit.

Despite the majority in the survey who fear severe economic problems if the debt limit is not raised, in a separate question only about 3 in 10 supported the general idea of increasing the ceiling. Four in 10 opposed it, with the rest expressing neutral feelings.

Democrats were about twice as likely as Republicans to support boosting the borrowing limit, while Republicans were likelier than Democrats by a similar margin to oppose an increase.

The government reached its $16.4 trillion borrowing limit Dec. 31 but has avoided default by using cash from pension and other funds it administers, money that will eventually be replaced. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner has said his ability to use such bookkeeping measures will be exhausted by early March or sooner.

Wayne Wiedrich, 46, an engineering inspector in Williston, N.D., said in a poll follow-up interview that he agrees that failure to boost the debt ceiling would risk severe problems.

“But on the other hand, it’s not doing the economy any good to raise the debt limit, print money and spend money we don’t have. One of these days China will come knocking on our door and say, ‘We own you,’” he said, referring to the country that holds more U.S. debt than any other nation.

Homemaker Sherry Giordano, 59, of Feasterville, Pa., disagreed.

“It has to be done,” she said of raising the borrowing limit. “We shouldn’t risk our reputation or spend money and time arguing about it. We have to pay our debts.”

The survey showed slight shifts in concerns about the economy and federal budget deficits. Eighty-six percent consider the economy a top issue, down 5 percentage points from last summer, while 76 percent have the same view on federal deficits, up 7 points since then.

Around one-third expect the economy to worsen over the next year, the highest figure in AP-GfK polling in nearly two years. Less than 1 in 4 think the economy is in good shape, a fairly stable number since last summer.

Despite the slight edge people give the GOP’s debt limit path, the survey showed Obama with some advantages as he begins his second term.

Fifty-four percent approve of how he is handling his job, a figure that has changed little over the past year. That is more than triple Congress’ 17 percent approval rating, which edged down 6 percentage points since early December, before the two sides’ “fiscal cliff” fight ended with Republicans largely accepting Obama’s demands to raise taxes on the country’s highest earners.

Democrats also have a slight 41 percent to 36 percent advantage over Republicans as the party more trusted to handle the economy.

Both Obama and Congress have fallen in the public’s esteem after their last battle over the debt ceiling.

In AP-GfK polling in June 2011, the president held a 52 percent approval rating. By August, it had declined to 46 percent after down-to-the-wire negotiations with Congress. Congressional approval ratings fell even further, from an already weak 21 percent in June to just 12 percent after the year’s debt limit standoff finally ended.

When it comes to finding savings to balance the budget, nearly half prefer cutting government services as the GOP wants, 3 in 10 would rather increase taxes and about 1 in 10 would do both. The percentage backing cuts in federal services has dropped 13 percentage points since the spring of 2011, while the number supporting tax cuts has changed little.

The poll also highlighted how public support dwindles when people are asked about specific cuts.

Given four ideas for reducing budget deficits, only one got majority support: charging top earners higher Medicare premiums, backed by 60 percent. That included roughly even proportions of Democrats and Republicans, and majorities of all income groups in the poll.

Only 30 percent back slowing the growth of annual Social Security benefit increases, which Obama agreed to accept in failed talks with Boehner on crafting a deficit-reduction compromise during the “fiscal cliff” fight. Just 35 percent support gradually raising the current Medicare eligibility age of 65, and 41 percent support defense cuts.

The poll involved landline and cellphone interviews with 1,004 randomly chosen adults and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. It was conducted from Jan. 10 to 14 by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications.

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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 on debt limit and politics was conducted

By The Associated Press

The Associated Press-GfK poll on the debt limit and politics was conducted by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications from Jan. 10-14. It is based on landline telephone and cellphone interviews with a nationally representative random sample of 1,004 adults. Interviews were conducted with 604 respondents on landline telephones and 400 on cellular telephones.

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 4 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.

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

 

Topline results are available at http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com and http://surveys.ap.org.

 

AP-GfK Poll: Most say filing tax returns is easy; few willing to pay more for simpler forms

By STEPHEN OHLEMACHER and JENNIFER AGIESTA, Associated Press

 WASHINGTON (AP) — Struggling to figure out your federal tax return? You’re not alone, but you’re in the minority.

With the tax filing deadline looming next week, a majority of Americans say completing a federal tax return is easy, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll.

The findings defy conventional wisdom in Washington, where politicians have made careers out of promising a simpler tax system. In another blow to advocates of tax reform, almost no one is willing to pay higher taxes in exchange for a simpler code.

“If you’ve got the equivalent of a high school degree and you know how to do math, it’s very simple,” said Sara Thornton, a small business owner from East Granby, Conn.

Only 7 percent of those surveyed say they would be willing to pay more in federal taxes if the process of filling out a tax return were easier. Some 90 percent say “no, thanks.”

“No, because I don’t know that it is that difficult,” said Alicia Brown of suburban Des Moines, Iowa. “We already pay outlandish taxes because we live in Iowa. We have very high real estate taxes.”

The tax-writing committees in Congress have spent the past several years trying to build momentum for the herculean task of simplifying the tax code. One reason it’s so difficult is there are bound to be winners and losers. Sweeping changes to precious tax breaks will undoubtedly leave some people paying more, while others pay less.

One selling point for tax reform has been a simpler tax form. Ever hear a politician say you should be able to fill out your taxes on the back of a postcard? You’ll probably hear it again during this fall’s elections.

The National Taxpayer Advocate says filers spend a total of 6.1 billion hours a year preparing tax returns, at a cost of $168 billion. According to the IRS, 90 percent of filers either pay a tax preparer or use computer software to help them fill out their returns.

But 58 percent in the AP-GfK poll say completing a federal tax return is easy. Thirty-eight percent call it hard.

Fully 86 percent who have completed their tax forms say they are extremely confident or very confident that they filled them out correctly.

Not surprisingly, higher income taxpayers are more likely to say that filling out tax forms is difficult. Wealthy people tend to have more complicated taxes because they often have multiple sources of income and they are more likely to itemize their deductions, making them eligible for more tax breaks.

Forty-five percent of those with incomes above $100,000 said it is hard, compared with 33 percent among those making less than $50,000.

Through March 28, the IRS has processed 89 million returns. About 82 percent have qualified for refunds, averaging $2,831. That’s about $207 billion in tax refunds. Almost 91 percent of returns have been filed electronically.

Americans think most of their fellow taxpayers are honest, but not all of them. On average, poll-takers estimate that about one-third of Americans intentionally cheat when filling out their tax returns.

Erma Pierce of Poplar Bluff in southeast Missouri said she thinks about half of people cheat on their taxes, and she takes a dim view of it.

“You’re not supposed to cheat, lie or steal,” Pierce said. “It’s against the Bible.”

Thornton, the small business owner in Connecticut, said her estimate depends on the definition of cheating.

“People think of cheating as a case of, I reported I have nine children and I only have two. Or I reported I only made $20,000 this year and I actually made $50,000,” Thornton said. “They think of those forms of cheating, the absolute blatant, extravagant forms.”

Thornton’s definition of cheating is broader, which is why she thinks 80 percent to 90 percent of people cheat on their taxes.

“The minor forms of cheating are things like, well, I can increase my charitable deduction by $200,” Thornton said. “Most people consider, quote, unquote padding their income tax reporting or shaving it off a little bit, they don’t necessarily view that as cheating.”

“I define that as cheating only because it really is.”

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted March 20-24, 2014 using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based online panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,012 adults, and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points for all respondents.

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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AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.

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Online:

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

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


AP-GfK Poll: Election indicators suggest GOP edge

By, JENNIFER AGIESTA, Associated Press

(AP) – The latest Associated Press-GfK poll holds bad news for President Barack Obama, but as the November elections draw closer, there are ominous signs for congressional Democrats as well.

A look at the key findings from the March poll on this year’s election and the burgeoning 2016 presidential field.

GOP GAINING GROUND

Preferences for control of Congress are tight, but Republicans have gained on Democrats since January. Thirty-six percent in last month’s poll said they would rather see the Democrats in charge of Congress and 37 percent chose Republicans.

Democrats held a narrow advantage on that question in January, when 39 percent favored the Democrats and 32 percent the Republicans.

Democrats are in the majority in the Senate while Republicans run the House.

The shift stems largely from a change among those most interested in politics.

In the new poll, registered voters who are most strongly interested in politics favored the Republicans by 14 percentage points, 51 percent to 37 percent. In January, this group was about evenly split, with 42 percent preferring Democrats and 45 percent the Republicans.

That’s not the only positive sign in the poll for the Republicans.

Favorable views of the GOP have improved, with 38 percent overall now saying they hold a favorable impression of the Party. Republicans’ positive view of their own party has increased from 57 percent in January to 72 percent now.

Even impressions of the tea party movement have shifted more positive in recent months. GOP favorability still lags behind that of the Democrats, however, with 43 percent holding a favorable view of the Democratic Party.

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CONGRESSIONAL APPROVAL STAGNANT

Congressional approval is stagnant and negative, with just 16 percent saying they approve while 82 percent disapprove. Among those who have “a great deal” or “quite a bit” of interest in politics, 90 percent disapprove, including 61 percent who strongly disapprove.

Nearly 4 in 10 (39 percent) would like to see their own member of Congress re-elected, an improvement since January. Among registered voters who say they pay a great deal of attention to politics, 44 percent say they would like to see their current member re-elected, compared with 33 percent in January.

Here, there’s a glimmer of hope for Democrats. Those who consider themselves Democrats are now more likely than Republicans to say their own member of Congress ought to be re-elected. Not all Democrats live in districts represented by Democrats, of course, but it represents a shift in opinion since January.

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WHO’S IN CHARGE

With control of Congress divided between the parties, most Americans say Obama has a lot or quite a bit of control over what the federal government does, outpacing the share who say the Democrats or Republicans in Congress are in control.

Partisans tend to see the opposition as the controlling force, with Republicans more apt than Democrats to see Obama in charge, and Democrats more likely to say the Republicans have the upper hand.

Six in 10 (62 percent) of those with a great deal or quite a bit of interest in politics say Obama has a lot or quite a bit of control of what the federal government does. Just half (51 percent) of those closely attuned to politics say Democrats in Congress exert a similar influence over what the federal government does and 40 percent say the same about Republicans in Congress.

There’s little change since December in which party Americans trust more to handle major issues.

Democrats’ strong points are on handling social issues, including same-sex marriage (31 percent prefer Democrats, 17 percent the Republicans) and abortion (30 percent prefer Democrats, 22 percent Republicans). Republicans have the edge on protecting the country, 34 percent to 16 percent, a slightly wider margin than they held on the question in December.

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LOOKING TO 2016? NOT SO MUCH

The poll measured impressions of 19 potential 2016 presidential candidates, and found that a majority of those surveyed offered an opinion about just seven of them. The other 12 have quite a lot of introducing themselves to do if they are to make a run for the White House.

Most people said either they hadn’t heard of them or skipped the question.

Hillary Rodham Clinton generated the most positive response of the bunch, with 46 percent viewing the former secretary of state and first lady favorably and 39 percent unfavorably.

Among potential GOP contenders, none generated a net positive reaction from the public, with 2012 vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan faring best – 27 percent viewed him favorably, 29 percent unfavorably.

Among Republicans, majorities have favorable impressions of Ryan and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee. But in a sign that the past isn’t always prologue, nearly half of Republicans say they don’t know enough to have an opinion about former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, a large factor in the 2012 nomination fight.

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The AP-GfK Poll was conducted March 20-24, 2014 using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based online panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,012 adults, and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points for all respondents.

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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AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.

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Online:

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

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Follow Jennifer Agiesta on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/JennAgiesta