By ERICA WERNER and DENNIS JUNIUS

WASHINGTON (AP) — More than 6 in 10 Americans now favor allowing illegal immigrants to eventually become U.S. citizens, a major increase in support driven by a turnaround in Republicans’ opinions after the 2012 elections.

The finding, in a new Associated Press-GfK poll, comes as the Republican Party seeks to increase its meager support among Latino voters, who turned out in large numbers to help-re-elect President Barack Obama in November.

Emboldened by the overwhelming Hispanic backing and by shifting attitudes on immigration, Obama has made overhauling laws about who can legally live in the U.S. a centerpiece of his second-term agenda. In the coming weeks, he’s expected to aggressively push for ways to create an eventual pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants already in this country.

The poll results suggest that the public overall, not just Hispanics, will back his efforts. Sixty-two percent of Americans now favor providing a way for illegal immigrants in the U.S. to become citizens, an increase from just 50 percent in the summer of 2010, the last time the AP polled on the question.

In an even earlier poll, in 2009, some 47 percent supported a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants.

Further boosting the president on the issue, Democrats have opened a 41 percent to 34 percent advantage as the party more trusted to handle immigration, the first time they’ve held a significant edge on the matter in AP-GfK polling. In October 2010, Republicans held a slight edge over Democrats, 46 percent to 41 percent, on the question of who was more trusted on immigration.

Much of the increase in support for a path to eventual citizenship has come among Republicans. A majority in the GOP — 53 percent — now favor the change. That’s up a striking 22 percentage points from 2010. Seventy-two percent of Democrats and 55 percent of independents like the idea, similar to 2010.

The findings suggest that those GOP lawmakers weighing support for eventual legal status for illegal immigrants could be rewarded politically not just by Democrats and independents but also by some in their own party as well. This comes amid soul-searching in the party about how the GOP can broaden its support with Latinos, who backed Obama over Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, 71 percent to 27 percent, in November. Romney received less support from Latinos than Republican President George W. Bush did. But his slice was on par with candidates Bob Dole in 1996 and George H.W. Bush in 1992.

Some Republicans have concluded that backing comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship is becoming a political necessity. Many lawmakers remain strongly opposed, and it’s far from clear whether Congress will ultimately sign off on such an approach. But in the Senate, a bipartisan group of lawmakers is working to draft immigration legislation, and Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a possible 2016 presidential candidate, has offered proposals that would ultimately allow illegal immigrants to attain legal status.

One poll participant, Nick Nanos, 66, of Bellmore, N.Y., said that providing a way for illegal immigrants to become citizens would respect America’s history as a nation built by immigrants.

“We act as if our grandparents got here legally. Don’t want to ask a single Indian about that,” Nanos said in a follow-up interview. “I don’t think that most of us can solidly come to a point where our grandparents or great-grandparents or great-great-grandparents were here legally. What does that even mean?”

Overall, 54 percent in the poll said immigration is an important issue to them personally, a figure that’s remained steady over the past couple of years.

Republicans aren’t the only group whose views have shifted significantly. In August of 2010, just 39 percent of seniors favored a path to citizenship. Now, 55 percent do. Among those without a college degree, support has increased from 45 percent to 57 percent.

And 59 percent of whites now favor a way for illegal immigrants to gain citizenship, up from 44 percent in August 2010, and 41 percent in September 2009.

Overall, the poll found 35 percent strongly favored allowing illegal immigrants to become citizens over time, while 27 percent favored the idea somewhat. Just 35 percent of Americans opposed the approach, with 23 percent strongly opposed and 12 percent somewhat opposed. That compared with 48 percent opposed in 2010 and 50 percent in 2009.

The poll also found strong support for Obama’s decision, announced last summer, to shield as many as 800,000 immigrants from deportation with conditions. Those affected would have to be younger than 30, would have to have been brought to the U.S. before turning 16 and would have to fulfill certain other conditions including graduation from high school or serving in the military. Illegal immigrants covered by the order now can apply for work permits. The order bypassed Congress, which has not passed “DREAM Act” legislation to achieve some of the same goals for younger illegal immigrants.

Sixty-three percent of Americans favor that policy, while 20 percent oppose it and 17 percent are in between or unsure, the poll said. The policy is supported by 76 percent of Democrats, significantly more than among Republicans (48 percent) or independents (59 percent).

Cordel Welch, 41, of Los Angeles, was among those poll participants who believes illegal immigrants brought to the country as children should be treated differently from people who came here as adults.

“The ones that were brought here by their parents, they’re already here, they’re already established,” Welch said in an interview. “The adults should go through the process.”

Melissa Johnson, 40, of Porter, Texas, disagreed.

“I think there were generations of people that came over here legally, and just because your parents snuck you in or snuck in while pregnant with you doesn’t give you automatic citizenship,” she said. “I think they should send them all back home.”

The Associated Press-GfK Poll was conducted Jan. 10-14, 2013, by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cellphone interviews with 1,004 adults nationwide. Results for the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points; the margin is larger for subgroups.

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

 

Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta contributed to this report

How the AP-GfK poll was conducted

By The Associated Press

The Associated Press-GfK poll on immigration 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 4.0 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.

Kayla Mueller’s brother: Swap with Taliban raised IS demands

PRESCOTT, Ariz. (AP) — The brother of an American woman who was killed after spending months as a hostage of Islamic State militants says Kayla Mueller’s situation worsened after the government traded five Taliban commanders for a captive U.S. soldier.

The militants increased their demands after the May swap for Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl, Eric Mueller told NBC’s “Today” in an interview that aired Monday.

“That made the whole situation worse because that’s when the demands got greater,” he said. “They got larger. They realized that they had something.”

Mueller’s death was confirmed Feb. 10 by her family and U.S. officials. The Islamic State group claimed she died in a Jordanian airstrike, but U.S. officials have not confirmed that. The Pentagon said it didn’t know how she was killed.

The 26-year-old international aid worker, who grew up in Prescott, Arizona, was captured in August 2013 after leaving a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Aleppo, Syria.

Mueller’s brother and parents spoke to “Today” host Savannah Guthrie. The family has declined repeated requests for an interview with The Associated Press.

Mueller’s father, Carl Mueller, said that the United States’ willingness to swap for Bergdahl but not pay ransom or allow ransom to be paid for his daughter “was pretty hard to take.”

“I actually asked the president that question when we were in the White House,” he said without elaborating.

Mueller’s parents said in the interview that the U.S. government put policy ahead of American lives.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday that the Mueller family had been put in a difficult position by the U.S. policy against making concessions to terrorists, but he defended it as being in the best interests of the nation.

“The president is confident that his administration did do everything that was possible within the confines of that policy — using our military might, using our intelligence capability, using our diplomatic influence — to try to secure the safe release and return of Kayla Mueller,” Earnest said.

A recent Associated Press-GfK poll found that only 3 in 10 Americans think the United States should pay a ransom to save an American hostage overseas, even if it’s the only way to rescue the hostage. A quarter of Americans say there are circumstances when the United States should directly negotiate with a terrorist group.

The poll of 1,045 adults was conducted online Jan. 29-Feb. 2. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

The Obama administration has defended the Bergdahl swap. Some U.S. lawmakers were outraged by the exchange of five Taliban commanders held at the Guantanamo Bay prison for the Idaho native who left his post in Afghanistan and was captured and held by the Taliban for five years.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff unanimously supported the exchange, insisting that the United States has a sacred commitment to men and women who serve that it never will leave anyone behind on the battlefield.


AP-GfK Poll: Most back Obama plan to raise investment taxes

WASHINGTON (AP) — The rich aren’t taxed enough and the middle class is taxed too much. As for your taxes, you probably think they’re too high as well.

Those are the results of an Associated Press-GfK poll that found that most people in the United States support President Barack Obama’s proposal to raise investment taxes on high-income families.

The findings echo the populist messages of two liberal senators — Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont — being courted by the progressive wing of the Democratic Party to run for president in 2016. The results also add weight to Obama’s new push to raise taxes on the rich and use some of the revenue to lower taxes on the middle class.

Obama calls his approach “middle-class economics.”

It’s not flying with Republicans in Congress, who oppose higher taxes.

But Bob Montgomery of Martinsville, Virginia, said people with higher incomes should pay more.

“I think the more you make the more taxes you should pay,” said Montgomery, who is retired after working 40 years at an auto dealership. “I can’t see where a man makes $50,000 a year pays as much taxes as somebody that makes $300,000 a year.”

According to the poll, 68 percent of those questioned said wealthy households pay too little in federal taxes; only 11 percent said the wealthy pay too much.

Also, 60 percent said middle-class households pay too much in federal taxes, while 7 percent said they paid too little.

Obama laid out a series of tax proposals as part of his 2016 budget released this month. Few are likely to win approval in the Republican-controlled Congress. But if fellow Democrats were to embrace his ideas, they could play a role in the 2016 race.

One proposal would increase capital gains taxes on households making more than $500,000. In the survey, 56 percent favored the proposal, while only 16 percent opposed it.

Democrats, at 71 percent, were the most likely to support raising taxes on capital gains. Among Republicans and independents, 46 percent supported it.

Obama’s other tax plans didn’t fare as well.

About 27 percent said they favored making estates pay capital gains taxes on assets when they are inherited, and 36 percent opposed it.

Just 19 percent said they supported the president’s aborted plan to scale back the tax benefits of popular college savings plans, 529 accounts, named after a section in federal tax law. Obama withdrew the proposal after Republicans and some Democrats in Congress opposed it.

“I think that’s a poor idea,” said Jamie Starr of suburban Atlanta. “Being that I’m a mother of five children, that is a wonderful program.”

“That’s kids trying to make their own away in this world without having student loans,” she said.

Obama’s proposal to levy a new tax on banks was supported by 47 percent of those surveyed. Only 13 percent opposed it, while 36 percent were undecided.

It’s tax season, that time of the year when people are confronted by their obligations to the government. The poll found that 56 percent of us think our own federal taxes are too high, and 4 percent said they pay too little.

If taxes are increased, a slight majority said the additional money should help pay down the national debt. Using the money to cut other taxes or fund government programs were less popular options.

Republicans, in general, are more likely than Democrats to oppose higher taxes, except when it comes to low-income families.

Only 19 percent of respondents said low-income families pay too little in federal taxes, but there was a significant split between the political parties. Just 10 percent of Democrats said low-income families pay too little, while 33 percent of Republicans said they don’t pay enough.

According to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, the poorest 20 percent of households paid less than 1 percent of all federal taxes in 2011, the latest year for data. The top 10 percent paid more than half of all federal taxes.

That’s OK, said Sen. Sanders, an independent from Vermont, because wealthy people have seen their incomes soar while the rest of the country’s wages have been much more flat.

“Most people understand that at a time when the rich are becoming much richer, the middle class is continuing to disappear,” Sanders said. “And people also understand that the very wealthy and large corporations are able to take advantage of huge loopholes, which enable them not to pay their fair share of taxes.”

Obama has been pushing to raise taxes on the rich since his first campaign for president in 2008. He has had some success. In January 2013, Obama persuaded Republicans in Congress to let income tax rates go up for families making more than $450,000 a year. It was part of a deal that made permanent a large package of tax cuts first enacted under Republican President George W. Bush.

Some liberals are looking for a candidate to push for higher taxes on the rich in the 2016 race. Sanders and Democrat Warren would fit the profile, though Warren says she is not running for president and Sanders says he has not made up his mind.

Among Democrats, Hillary Rodham Clinton is seen as the front-runner for the nomination; she has yet to make her candidacy official.

Clinton hasn’t offered specifics on how she would approach taxes as a candidate. But she offered a glimpse of her views following Obama’s State of the Union Address in January, when she tweeted that Obama “pointed way to an economy that works for all. Now we need to step up & deliver for the middle class. #FairShot #FairShare.”

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The AP-GfK Poll of 1,045 adults was conducted online Jan. 29-Feb. 2, 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 3.5 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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Online:

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

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