By LAURIE KELLMAN and JENNIFER AGIESTA, Associated Press

    WASHINGTON (AP) — A surging Rick Santorum is running even with Mitt Romney atop the Republican presidential field, but neither candidate is faring well against President Barack Obama eight months before Americans vote, a new survey shows.

     Obama tops 50 percent support when matched against each of the four GOP candidates and holds a significant lead over each of them, according to the Associated Press-GfK poll. Republicans, meanwhile, are divided on whether they’d rather see Romney or Santorum capture the nomination, with Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul lagging behind. It’s a troubling sign for the better-funded Romney as the GOP race heads toward crucial votes in his home state of Michigan, in Arizona and in an array of states on Super Tuesday, March 6.

     ”I’d pick Santorum, because it seems Romney may be waffling on a few issues and I’m not sure I trust him,” said Thomas Stehlin, 66, of St. Clair Shores, Mich. He thinks the Detroit-born son of a Michigan governor is facing a strong challenge from Santorum in his home state because of his tangled answers on the auto industry bailout.

     Also, he says, there’s this: Romney, the self-described can-do turnaround artist of the corporate world and the troubled Salt Lake City Olympics, with his millions of dollars, has been unable to vanquish his political opponents.

     ”That may be the reason right there,” said Stehlin, a retired government worker and a Republican. “He spends lots of money and he doesn’t get anywhere.”

     Nationally, Republicans are evenly split between Romney and Santorum. The poll found 33 percent would most like to see Santorum get the nomination, while 32 percent prefer Romney. Gingrich and Paul each had 15 percent support.

     Romney’s fall from presumed front-runner to struggling establishment favorite has given his opponents an opening as he tries to expand his support. His Republican rivals have stepped in claiming to be a more consistent conservative and viable opponent against Obama, and each of the last three AP-GfK polls has found a different contender battling Romney for the top spot. But Santorum, the former Pennsylvania senator and abortion foe, has hit his stride at a key moment in the nomination contest.

     Santorum’s spike comes as satisfaction with the field of candidates remains tepid and interest in the contest is cools. About 6 in 10 Republicans in the poll say they are satisfied with the people running for the nomination, stagnant since December and below the 66 percent that felt that way in October. Only 23 percent are strongly satisfied with the field and 4 in 10 said they are dissatisfied with the candidates running, the poll found. And deep interest in the race is slipping: Just 40 percent of Republicans say they have a great deal of interest in following the contest, compared with 48 percent in December.

     ”It seems like in the last month or so everything’s just chilled out,” said James Jackson of Fort Worth, Texas, a 40-year-old independent who leans Republican. “I just haven’t been following it lately.”

     Santorum remains Romney’s biggest threat. He won GOP contests in Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri and Colorado, stunning the GOP establishment that Romney has methodically courted since his first bid for the GOP nomination in 2008. The poll suggested more people are getting to know and like Santorum, with 44 percent of all adults saying they have a favorable impression of him, compared with 25 percent in December. The share with negative views has grown as well, with 42 percent having an unfavorable opinion of Santorum.

     Among Republicans in that time period, Santorum has shot from 37 percent to 70 percent favorable.

     There’s evidence that Santorum’s comments about social issues may not have hurt him so far among women.

     The former Pennsylvania senator has been unapologetic in his opposition to abortion and his concerns about working moms, women in combat and contraception — some of the many examples he cites while making the case that he would draw a clearer contrast than Romney against Obama.

     For all that, there’s little evident gender gap between Romney and Santorum, the AP-GfK poll showed. Santorum, who made some of the comments while the poll was being conducted Feb. 16-20, runs even with Romney among both Republican men and women. And Republican women may be rallying to his defense: Seventy-five percent of GOP women have a favorable impression of Santorum, compared with 66 percent of Republican men, the poll found.

     The enduring split between Romney and whichever Republican opponent is up at any moment reflects a familiar dispute in the broader GOP over whether to focus on social issues or financial matters in presidential races. According to exit and entrance polls conducted so far this cycle, Romney has carried voters who called the economy their top issue in 4 out of 5 states, while Santorum has drawn broader support among those calling abortion their top concern. Abortion has lagged well behind the economy as a priority for voters through the Nevada caucuses, but the recent focus on social issues in the campaign could increase its importance.

     Among conservative Republicans, Santorum holds a decisive edge, with 41 percent preferring him and 27 percent supporting Romney. But ask moderate and liberal Republicans the same question and the results flip: Forty percent favor Romney while 20 percent prefer Santorum.

     Similarly, tea party Republicans also favor Santorum over Romney, 44 percent to 23 percent. Non-tea partyers tilt toward Romney, with 38 percent preferring him and 25 percent supporting Santorum.

     Santorum enjoys an edge among Republicans age 45 and up, those paying the closest attention to the GOP race and born-again and evangelical voters.

     Looking ahead to the general election, Obama holds an 8-point lead over Romney, 9 points over Santorum and 10 points over Gingrich or Paul, the survey found.

     Notably, the survey showed the president dominating among independents, a group central to Obama’s 2008 victory, whose support for him had faltered in recent months. According to the poll, 6 in 10 independents would choose Obama over any of the Republicans.

     There was good news for Republicans, too: Any of the four Republican candidates would likely top Obama among those age 65 and over, as well as among whites without college degrees.

     For their part, Democrats were watching with some glee.

     ”It’s been a great show,” said Karen Clark, 38, a radio personality from Raleigh, N.C., who’s voting for Obama.

     The Associated Press-GfK Poll was conducted Feb. 16-20 by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications. It involved telephone interviews with 1,000 adults nationwide and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.1 percentage points.

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     Associated Press writers Dennis Junius and Stacy Anderson contributed to this report.

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     Online:

    http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com

 

 

How the poll was conducted

 

By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

     The Associated Press-GfK Poll on the 2012 elections and Republican candidates was conducted by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications from Feb. 16-20. It is based on landline and cellphone telephone interviews with a nationally representative random sample of 1,000 adults, including 450 Republicans and Republican-leaning independents. Interviews were conducted with 700 respondents on landline telephones and 300 on cellular phones.

     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 one time in 20 should chance variations in the sample cause the results to vary by more than plus or minus 4.1 percentage points from the answers that would be obtained if all adults in the U.S. were polled. The margin of sampling error for Republicans and Republican-leaning independents is plus or minus 6.2 percentage points.

     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: Voters see GOP win in the offing, but they aren’t too fond of their choices

By JENNIFER AGIESTA and EMILY SWANSON, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Two weeks before Election Day, most of the nation’s likely voters now expect the Republican Party to take control of the U.S. Senate, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll. And by a growing margin, they say that’s the outcome they’d like to see.

But the survey suggests many will cringe when they cast those ballots. Most likely voters have a negative impression of the Republican Party, and 7 in 10 are dissatisfied by its leaders in Congress.

The Democrats win few accolades themselves. Impressions of the party among likely voters have grown more negative in the past month. In fact, Democrats are more trusted than the GOP on just two of nine top issues, the poll showed.

The economy remains the top issue for likely voters — 91 percent call it “extremely” or “very” important. And the GOP has increased its advantage as the party more trusted to handle the issue to a margin of 39 percent to 31 percent.

With control of the Senate at stake, both parties say they are relying on robust voter-turnout operations — and monster campaign spending — to lift their candidates in the final days. But the poll suggests any appeals they’ve made so far haven’t done much to boost turnout among those already registered. The share who report that they are certain to vote in this year’s contests has risen just slightly since September, and interest in news about the campaign has held steady.

Among all adults, 38 percent say they’d like the Democrats to wind up in control of Congress, to 36 percent for the Republicans. But the GOP holds a significant lead among those most likely to cast ballots: 47 percent of these voters favor a Republican controlled-Congress, 39 percent a Democratic one. That’s a shift in the GOP’s favor since an AP-GfK poll in late September, when the two parties ran about evenly among likely voters.

Women have moved in the GOP’s direction since September. In last month’s AP-GfK poll, 47 percent of female likely voters said they favored a Democratic-controlled Congress while 40 percent wanted the Republicans to capture control. In the new poll, the two parties are about even among women, 44 percent prefer the Republicans, 42 percent the Democrats.

In all, the poll finds that 55 percent of likely voters now expect Republicans to win control of the Senate, up from 47 percent last month. Democrats have grown slightly more pessimistic on this count since September, with 25 percent expecting the GOP to take control now compared with 18 percent earlier.

What’s deeply important to likely voters after the economy? About three-quarters say health care, terrorism, the threat posed by the Islamic State group and Ebola.

On foreign affairs, Republicans have the upper hand. By a 22-point margin, voters trust the GOP more to protect the country, and they give the Republicans a 10-point lead as more trusted to handle international crises. Democrats have a slim advantage on health care, 36 percent to 32 percent.

Although handling the Ebola outbreak was among the top issues for likely voters, the poll shows little sign that either party could capitalize on fears of the virus as an election issue. More than half said either that they trust both parties equally (29 percent) or that they don’t trust either party (24 percent) to handle public health issues like Ebola. The remaining respondents were about equally split between trusting Republicans (25 percent) and Democrats (22 percent).

Same-sex marriage? Only 32 percent said that was an extremely or very important issue to them personally, identical to the percentage saying so in September, before the Supreme Court effectively allowed same-sex marriages to proceed in five more states.

The poll, which asked likely voters whom they preferred among the candidates in the congressional district where they live, found Republicans hold an edge in the upcoming elections. Forty percent said they would vote for the GOP candidate in their House district, while 32 percent said the Democrat. About a quarter backed a third-party candidate or were undecided.

Although likely voters appear more apt to take the GOP side in the upcoming elections, the poll finds little difference between those most likely to cast a ballot and others on negative perceptions of the nation’s direction and leadership. Among all adults as well as just the likely voters, 9 in 10 disapprove of Congress, 7 in 10 say the nation is heading in the wrong direction, 6 in 10 disapprove of the way Barack Obama is handling his job as president and 6 in 10 describe the nation’s economy as “poor.”

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted Oct. 16-20 using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,608 adults, and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points for all respondents. Among 968 likely voters, the margin of sampling error was plus or minus 3.6 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 with the ability to access the Internet at no cost to them.

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Associated Press writer Philip Elliott contributed to this report.

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

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Online:

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


AP-GfK Poll finds most NFL fans believe Commissioner Roger Goodell should keep job

By RACHEL COHEN, Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — Most NFL fans believe Commissioner Roger Goodell should keep his job after his handling of recent domestic violence cases, according to a new Associated Press-GfK Poll.

Only 32 percent say Goodell should lose his job over the issue, with 66 percent saying he shouldn’t.

Support for his handling of the cases is much lower, though, with 42 percent saying they disapprove. The same percentage neither approve nor disapprove, with just 15 percent approving.

Goodell initially suspended Ray Rice for two games after the Baltimore Ravens running back was charged with assaulting his then-fiancee. The commissioner defended the punishment at first, before admitting more than a month later that he “didn’t get it right.”

When a video of the assault later surfaced, Goodell suspended Rice indefinitely, saying the images constituted new evidence. Rice was released earlier that day by the Ravens.

The poll shows strong support for keeping Rice off the field for at least some period of time. Forty-three percent of fans say Rice should never be allowed to play again. Just 7 percent say he should be able to play now, with 49 percent saying he should be permitted to return after missing more time.

Opinions differed by gender and race. Slightly more than half of women say Rice should never be allowed to play again, compared with 37 percent of men. Just 19 percent of black fans say he should receive a permanent ban, while 46 percent of white fans support that.

Respondents were more receptive to the idea of Minnesota Vikings star running back Adrian Peterson returning to the field. Peterson is currently on paid leave while he faces child abuse charges.

Fifty-four percent of fans say he should be allowed to play again if he is found not guilty, and another 29 percent say he should be able to return regardless of the case’s outcome. Only 15 percent say he should never play again.

Answers to this question also varied by gender and race. Thirty-four percent of men say Peterson should be allowed to return under any circumstances, compared with 22 percent of women. And 45 percent of black fans say he should be able to return no matter the verdict, while only 25 percent of white fans say that.

The poll suggests that the recent spate of highly publicized domestic violence cases has made a small dent in the NFL’s popularity. An AP-GfK Poll conducted in January found that 49 percent of respondents considered themselves fans of pro football. That number dropped to 43 percent in the current poll.

In January, 19 percent of respondents said their interest in the sport had increased in the previous five years, with 12 percent saying it had decreased. This time, 12 percent say it has increased while 15 percent say it has decreased.

Of the group with less interest, 42 percent say the recent domestic violence arrests have been an extremely or very important factor in that drop.

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted Sept. 25-29 using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It included online interviews with 1,845 adults, including 836 NFL fans. The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 2.5 percentage points for all respondents and plus or minus 3.8 percentage points for the NFL fans.

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AP News Survey Specialist Emily Swanson contributed to this report.