By PHILIP ELLIOTT and DENNIS JUNIUS, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama’s endorsement of gay marriage did little to shift the nation’s views on the subject, with a new poll finding that the public remains evenly split on the issue.

Even so, an Associated Press-GfK survey released Friday found that the president fired up his core supporters — at least for now — with his support of gay marriage. More young people, liberals and Democrats say they strongly approve of Obama’s handling of same-sex marriage than said they did before he disclosed his new position last month.

The poll found that 42 percent of Americans oppose gay marriage, 40 percent support it and 15 percent are neutral. Last August, the country was similarly divided over whether same-sex couples should be allowed to be legally married in their state, with 45 percent opposing, 42 percent favoring and 10 percent neutral.

The country’s divisions — and conflictions — are clear in the voices of Americans.

“Marriage is a marriage, and it’s between a man and a woman,” said John Von Sneidern, a 76-year-old Republican from Fairfield, Conn., before pausing. “But on the other side of that, there are a lot of gay couples who are responsible and dedicated to each other and deserve a lot of the benefits of marriage.”

The issue, however, won’t shape his vote; he plans to vote on the economy and support Mitt Romney because of his private-sector experience.

Katherine Galdarisi, a 67-year-old Democrat from Sacramento, Calif., backed Republican John McCain four years ago but plans to back Obama this time. That’s partly because she faults Republicans for not working with the president on issues voters care about, saying: “They fight him every step of the way and talk about things that don’t matter like gay marriage.”

“It’s none of anybody’s business,” Galdarisi said. “I don’t care if someone marries a monkey. It doesn’t affect me in the least.”

For years, Obama faced pressure from the left to announce his support for gay marriage, and he spent a chunk of his presidency signaling that he would do just that by saying that he was “evolving” on the issue.

While the economy continues to dominate the presidential race, Obama’s team was mindful that anything — including social issues like gay marriage — could shift the balance if the contest, which surveys show is close less than five months before the election. Even so, Obama announced his reversal and risked turning off some conservative, moderate and independent voters across the nation and in states like Virginia and North Carolina that hadn’t voted for a Democratic presidential candidate in decades until Obama won them four years ago.

The gamble may have paid off.

The AP-GfK poll showed that voters, at least nationally, didn’t flee the president.

When asked which candidate Americans trust to do a better job of handling social issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage, there was little change from a poll taken about a week before Obama’s May 9 announcement; 52 percent now side with Obama, compared with 36 percent for Romney.

And more Democrats and liberals said they strongly approved of the president’s handling of gay marriage than did last August; 41 percent of Democrats now say that, compared with 26 percent back then, and 48 percent of liberals have that view, up from 28 percent almost a year ago.

But posing a potential problem for the president, his announcement also fired up the right — against him. More Republicans and conservatives said they strongly disapproved of his handling of the issue now than before; 53 percent of Republicans said that, compared with 45 percent in August, and 52 percent of conservatives say as much now, up from 43 percent back then.

The issue could compel them to turn out in droves to vote against Obama.

Self-described social conservatives like Bethel Hissom of Knoxville, Tenn., is among those who plan to back Romney and who don’t support allowing gays to wed.

“It’s not marriage,” the 65-year-old retired speech therapist said. Of Obama’s position, she said: “It will probably help his chances at being re-elected. It will get the gay population in favor of that and that could swing votes to his favor. But it is not marriage.”

Obama’s announcement clearly affected some — and in personal ways.

Trevor Rzucidlo, a 22-year-old who graduated last month from the University of Connecticut, had a roommate who is gay, and he said that hearing the president speak out in support of someone he cared about “was huge.”

 My peers are just way more chilled out than older people are,” said Rzucidlo, who considers himself an independent and plans to vote for Obama. “They’re less concerned with how other people live their lives.”

 Indeed, support for gay marriage remains a popular position with younger voters; 50 percent of people under age 35 said they would favor allowing same-sex couples to be legally married in their state, compared with 36 percent of those ages 35 and up.

 Among those under 35, overall approval of the president’s handling of same-sex marriage has held steady, but those who back him do so more strongly now. His “strong” approval numbers have just about doubled, jumping from 17 percent last August to 34 percent in the AP-GfK survey.

 The Associated Press-GfK Poll was conducted June 14-18, 2012, by GfK Roper Public Affairs and Corporate Communications. It involved landline and cellphone interviews with 1,007 adults nationwide, including 878 registered voters. Results for the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4.0 percentage points and for registered voters it is 4.2 points.

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Associated Press Deputy Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta and AP writer Josh Lederman contributed to this report.

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

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

 

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