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

 

AP-GfK Poll: Majority of Americans favor diplomatic ties with Cuba

WASHINGTON (AP) — Nearly three-fourths of Americans think the United States should have diplomatic ties with Cuba, but they’re not sure how far to go in lifting sanctions, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll released Monday as full diplomatic relations between the two countries were formally restored.

“Relations between Cuba and the U.S. I think are long overdue. There’s no threat there,” said Alex Bega, 30, of Los Angeles. “I think the sanctions we have on them are pretty much obsolete.”

The resumption of normal ties ended decades of acrimony between the two nations that was hardened when President John F. Kennedy and Cuba’s Fidel Castro fought over Soviet expansion in the Americas. The new diplomatic status, however, does not erase lingering disputes, such as mutual claims for economic reparations, Havana’s desire to end a more than 50-year-old trade embargo and the U.S. push for Cuba to improve human rights and democracy.

The new poll also found that 58 percent of Americans approve of President Barack Obama’s handling of the U.S. relationship with Havana while 40 disapprove. By contrast, only 39 percent approve of his handling of the U.S. role in world affairs more generally, while 59 percent disapprove.

“I just disapprove of his politics in general,” said Julie Smith, 40, a university administrator from Bowling Green, Kentucky. “I just don’t think that us trying to improve relations with Cuba is beneficial to the United States.”

Respondents were split on what to do about the sanctions on Cuba. Forty-eight percent thought they should be decreased or eliminated entirely while 47 percent favored keeping them at their current level or increasing them. Five percent didn’t answer.

The story was different when it came to Iran.

Seventy-seven percent said they thought sanctions on Tehran should be kept where they are or increased, according to the poll, which was conducted just days before the U.S. signed an agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for economic sanctions relief. Under the agreement, Iran’s nuclear program will be curbed for a decade in exchange for potentially hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of relief from international sanctions.

Mary Barry, 57, of Arlington, Texas, is happy that the Obama administration opened diplomatic efforts with both Cuba and Iran, but is wary about lifting sanctions on the two countries.

“I think we need to have diplomatic relations with Iran and monitor their nuclear weapon,” said Berry, who works producing and staging corporate business meetings. But, she said: “I think we need to keep the sanctions in place on Iran to make sure they’re doing what they’ve promised they’re going to do because I think Iran is a country that you can’t really trust.”

On Cuba, she thinks it’s “just time” to restore diplomatic relations. But she favors a gradual lifting of sanctions on Cuba. “I don’t think they should be lifted immediately,” she said.

There is some momentum in Congress, however, to lift the trade embargo.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., backs a bipartisan bill in the Senate to lift the embargo, which she said must be done for the U.S. to avoid losing investment opportunities that will come with loosening of travel restrictions to the island.

“Once millions of American tourists are going, they will need places to stay and they will need food to eat. … So when they come, they are going to be starting to sleep in Spanish hotels and eat German foods because those countries will be able to supply what they need in the tourism industry, not to mention the computers and Wi-Fi and everything else,” Klobuchar said in an interview.

She predicted the legislation, which has 20 co-sponsors so far, would pass, although maybe not this year. “I know there are some people who have long been opposed to this,” she said.

Democratic Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey thinks the Obama administration’s work to restore relations is an attempt to validate the Castro regime’s “brutal behavior.”

“I remain deeply concerned with ongoing human rights violations in Cuba,” Menendez said Monday. “There have been over 2,800 political arrests on the island this year alone.”

The AP-GfK Poll of 1,004 adults was conducted online July 9 to July 13, 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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Online:

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


AP-GfK Poll: Sharp divisions after high court backs gay marriage

NEW YORK (AP) — The Supreme Court’s ruling last month legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide has left Americans sharply divided, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll that suggests support for gay unions may be down slightly from earlier this year.

The poll also found a near-even split over whether local officials with religious objections should be required to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, with 47 percent saying that should be the case and 49 percent say they should be exempt.

Overall, if there’s a conflict, a majority of those questioned think religious liberties should win out over gay rights, according to the poll. While 39 percent said it’s more important for the government to protect gay rights, 56 percent said protection of religious liberties should take precedence.

The poll was conducted July 9 to July 13, less than three weeks after the Supreme Court ruled states cannot ban same-sex marriage.

According to the poll, 42 percent support same-sex marriage and 40 percent oppose it. The percentage saying they favor legal same-sex marriage in their state was down slightly from the 48 percent who said so in an April poll. In January, 44 percent were in favor.

Asked specifically about the Supreme Court ruling, 39 percent said they approve and 41 percent said they disapprove.

“What the Supreme Court did is jeopardize our religious freedoms,” said Michael Boehm, 61, an industrial controls engineer from the Detroit area who describes himself as a conservative-leaning independent.

“You’re going to see a conflict between civil law and people who want to live their lives according to their faiths,” Boehm said.

Boehm was among 59 percent of the poll respondents who said wedding-related businesses with religious objections should be allowed to refuse service to gay and lesbian couples. That compares with 52 percent in April.

Also, 46 percent said businesses more generally should be allowed to refuse service to same-sex couples, while 51 percent said that should not be allowed.

Claudette Girouard, 69, a retiree from Chesterfield Township, Michigan, said she is a moderate independent voter who has gradually become supportive of letting same-sex couples marry.

“I don’t see what the big hoopla is,” she said. “If they’re happy, why not?”

Girouard said local officials should be required to perform same-sex marriages, but does not think that wedding-related businesses should be forced to serve same-sex couples.

“If the official doesn’t like what he’s being asked to do, then quit,” she said. “But businesses are kind of independent, so if they have a strong belief against it, there are enough other businesses out there for someone to use.”

The poll found pronounced differences in viewpoints depending on political affiliation.

For example, 65 percent of Democrats, but only 22 percent of Republicans favored allowing same-sex couples to legally marry in their state. And 72 percent of Republicans but just 31 percent of Democrats said local officials with religious objections should be exempt from issuing marriage licenses.

By a 64-32 margin, most Democrats said it’s more important to protect gay rights than religious liberties when the two are in conflict. Republicans said the opposite, by 82-17.

Clarence Wells, 60, a conservative from Rockwood, Tennessee, said he strongly disapproved of the Supreme Court’s ruling. He anticipates friction as gay couples try to exercise their newfound rights and people with religious objections to same-sex marriage balk at accepting them.

“I don’t believe it’s going to go over smoothly,” said Wells. “I think a lot of them will be shunned in church. … I think there will businesses that are going to close, because some people are stubborn enough to not want to deal with it.”

Andrew Chan, 41, a moderate independent from Seattle, said he has tried to remain neutral on same-sex marriage.

“For me, it’s always been about tolerating,” said Chan, who works for a nonprofit organization. “I’ve got friends on both sides.”

Chan said he was happy for gays and lesbians who have found someone they want to marry, and he expressed some wariness toward politicians who might try to roll back the Supreme Court ruling.

“That just creates more division,” he said. “Are we looking to move the country forward or move it backward?”

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The AP-GfK Poll of 1,004 adults was conducted online July 9 to July 13, 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. Some questions were ask of half samples of respondents and have smaller margins of error. 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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Swanson reported from Washington.

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Reach David Crary on Twitter at http://twitter.com/CraryAP and Emily Swanson at http://twitter.com/EL_Swan

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Online:

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