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: Trump supporters unfazed by reversal on self-funding

By JULIE BYKOWICZ and EMILY SWANSON

WESTFIELD, Ind. (AP) — Donald Trump’s voters adored him for mostly paying his own way in the first half of the presidential campaign. Yet those same people are shrugging their shoulders now that he’s raising money just like the rivals he once disparaged as the “puppets” of big donors.

A new Associated Press-GfK poll found that 63 percent of Trump supporters say they’re at least somewhat more likely to back a self-funded candidate, just as he once was. However, just 13 percent consider it a problem that Trump changed his mind — and nearly all those think it’s only a minor one.

How can people care so strongly about a candidate’s original stance and then not care at all when he changes his mind?

At a Trump rally this week near Indianapolis, some of his most ardent supporters explained their thinking. Many said it wouldn’t be fair for Trump, a billionaire businessman, to have to spend his own money against Hillary Clinton. The presumptive Democratic nominee and her allies aim to raise $1 billion for the general election.

“It was inspiring to see someone spend their own money rather than relying on lobbyists,” said 18-year-old Maxwell Nugent, who will be casting his first presidential vote for Trump this November. “It makes it more profound for him to be asking all the people who supported him to be giving money to the campaign now.”

Nugent, who wore a black T-shirt that reads: “Hillary’s Lies Matter,” said he likes that Trump “started from the bottom, with no donors.”

So far, Trump has put about $50 million of his own money into his campaign, mostly through personal loans which he says he will not seek to recoup. But he assembled a fundraising operation two months ago and has raised more than $51 million for his campaign and Republican Party allies.

Others who attended the Indiana rally said they have some concerns about Trump raising money — but also have faith that he won’t bend his policies to appease donors.

“A big thing with me is that since he is a billionaire, he doesn’t need to be bought,” said Diane Martinez, who lives in Westfield, Indiana, and leads a group called Save Our Veterans that supports Trump.

Trump has lamented the influence that super-donors such as Charles and David Koch and Sheldon Adelson hold over Republican politicians, naming those three specifically.

Yet he’s now developing a relationship with Adelson, a billionaire Las Vegas gaming executive, that could unleash streams of money to help him win the election. The Koch brothers have no plans to back Trump.

Americans have a negative view of the amount of money in politics. An AP-NORC poll conducted in November of 2015 found that 8 in 10 Americans, Republicans and Democrats alike, think campaign contributions influence the decisions that elected officials make.

Trump supporters are among those who see an issue with the way campaign funding works. In the AP-GfK poll, 51 percent of Trump supporters call the way presidential candidates raise money for their campaigns very or extremely important to them, similar to the 46 percent of all Americans who say that.

“We need absolute reform,” said Victor Wakley, another Save Our Veterans member at the Indiana rally for Trump. “I loved that he was paying his own way, and I do have some concerns now that he’s not.”

Democrat Bernie Sanders, who solicited only small donations online and held no traditional fundraisers, made campaign finance reform a pillar of his presidential campaign. Clinton also has promised to press for an end to unlimited money that flows into campaigns through super political action committees, although she is making full use of those groups in her 2016 bid.

Trump has called super PACs “corrupt” but offered no policy proposals about campaign finance. He’s also stopped talking about the corrosive effect of donor money since he began raising it.

In an AP interview this spring, Trump said he is raising money only to help the Republican Party, and he has repeatedly said it would be easier for him to just write a big check to his own campaign. He also stresses that his campaign fundraising is coming from small donors, the way Sanders’ fundraising was.

None of those statements is entirely true.

Trump’s fundraising deal with the party includes a provision that the first $2,700 of any donation go to his campaign. The rest of it — up to about $500,000 per donor — is divided among the national party and some state Republican groups.

Online solicitations accounted for less than half of the money Trump raised in late May and June, and it’s not clear how much of it was from small donors. Fundraising reports to federal regulators are due Wednesday night.

On Trump’s self-funding reversal, 16 percent of all Americans polled by AP-GfK considered it a major problem and 21 percent a minor problem.

Among Clinton supporters, 26 percent say they’re at least somewhat more likely to support a candidate who’s funding his or her own campaign, but more than half say they consider Trump’s reversal to be a problem, including 27 percent who say they think it’s a major problem.

The Trump supporters say it’s no surprise Democrats are trying to emphasize Trump’s switch from self-funding to traditional funding.

“There are a couple of ways to look at it,” said Jerry Loza, a Trump supporter at the Indiana rally. “You could say it’s hypocrisy. You could also say it’s a different game now.”

The AP-GfK Poll of 1,009 adults was conducted online July 7-11, 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 3.3 percentage points.

Respondents were first selected randomly using telephone or mail survey methods and later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t have access to the Internet were provided access for free.

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Keep track on how much Clinton and Trump are spending on television advertising, and where they’re spending it, via AP’s interactive ad tracker. http://elections.ap.org/content/ad-spending

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Online:

Poll results: http://ap-gfkpoll.com


AP-GfK Poll: Voters split over how to secure US from illegal immigration
By EMILY SWANSON and VIVIAN SALAMA

WASHINGTON (AP) — Most Americans reject Donald Trump’s proposal to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico and his support for deporting those in the country illegally. But they’re divided on the presumptive Republican nominee’s proposed temporary ban on the entry of Muslims from other countries, a new survey finds.

The poll shows Trump’s shifting rhetoric on that ban might win some Americans over.

When it comes to Trump’s proposal to build a wall along the Mexican border, about 6 in 10 Americans oppose the idea while 4 in 10 are for it, the new Associated Press-GfK poll indicated.

Similarly, 6 in 10 Americans favor providing a way for immigrants who are in the country illegally to become U.S. citizens, while about 4 in 10 are opposed.
Seventy-six percent of Democrats, along with 44 percent of Republicans, favor a path to citizenship for immigrants in the country illegally. Among Trump’s supporters, just 38 percent are in favor of a path to citizenship. Sixty-seven percent of Republicans and just 21 percent of Democrats favor a border wall. Three-quarters of Trump’s supporters favor that proposal.

Trump’s likely rival, Democrat Hillary Clinton, has cast his calls for the border wall and temporary foreign Muslims ban as dangerous.

Trump supporter Marile Womack, 79, of Debary, Florida, adamantly favors the border wall. No one else “had the guts to do it,” she said. But the daughter of Austrian immigrants isn’t opposed to immigration from any country so long as it’s done legally.

“I don’t favor banning immigrants, but I am for investigating them before they come,” she said.

In contrast, Mark Wecker, a car salesman from Redding, California, called a border wall stupid, because “it’s a lot of money and it’s not going to keep them out if they want to get in.”

Three-quarters of Latinos, two-thirds of African-Americans and more than half of whites favor providing a path to citizenship. Forty-eight percent of whites, 26 percent of blacks and just 16 percent of Latinos favor a border wall.

Daniella Gil, a stay-at-home-mom from Cornelius, Oregon, who is the daughter of Mexican immigrants, said, “We should be focusing on the violence coming from Syria as opposed to Hispanics jumping the border.”

She said she supports immigration from any country so long as it’s done legally.

Americans are slightly more likely to oppose than favor a temporary ban on Muslims who are not U.S. citizens from entering the United States, by a 52 percent to 45 percent margin that has been strikingly consistent in AP-GfK polls conducted this year.

Sixty-nine percent of Republicans say they favor the temporary ban on Muslim immigration, while 68 percent of Democrats are opposed. Half of whites and just a third of non-whites say they favor the ban. Seventy-six percent of Trump supporters are in favor.

On a trip to Scotland last month, Trump shifted his rhetoric, saying he would instead “want terrorists out” of the U.S., and to do so, he would limit people’s entry from “specific terrorist countries and we know who those terrorist countries are.”

The poll indicates that rhetorical shift could win support. Among those asked more broadly about a temporary ban on immigrants from areas of the world where there is a history of terrorism against the U.S. or its allies, 63 percent are in favor and 34 percent opposed. Ninety-four percent of Trump supporters say they favor this proposal, as do 45 percent of Clinton supporters.

“That’s a necessity for creating stability,” said Ryan Williams, 40, a health care provider from Jacksonville, North Carolina.

Most Americans — 53 percent — think the United States is currently letting in too many refugees from Syria, engulfed in civil war since 2011 and the Islamic State militant group’s de facto center. President Barack Obama has pledged to admit some 10,000 Syrian refugees this year.

Another 33 percent think the current level is about right, while just 11 percent want to let in more. About 4 in 10 think there’s a very or somewhat high risk of refugees committing acts of religious or political violence in the United States, 34 percent think the risk moderate, and 24 percent consider it very or somewhat low.

Seventy-six percent of Republicans think the U.S. should allow fewer refugees. Among Democrats, 43 percent think the current level is about right, 38 percent think the U.S. should allow fewer, and 18 percent want to allow more.

Said Gil, the stay-at-home mom from Oregon, “Some of those people are innocent kids.”

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The AP-GfK Poll of 1,009 adults was conducted online July 7-11, 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 3.3 percentage points.

Respondents were first selected randomly using telephone or mail survey methods and later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t have access to the Internet were provided access for free.

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Online:

Poll results: http://ap-gfkpoll.com

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Follow Vivian Salama and Emily Swanson on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/vmsalama and http://twitter.com/EL_Swan