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.

     ___

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

     ___

 

     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: Can Supreme Court be fair in health law case?

WASHINGTON (AP) — Many people in the United States doubt that the Supreme Court can rule fairly in the latest litigation jeopardizing President Barack Obama’s health care law.

The Associated Press-GfK poll finds only 1 person in 10 is highly confident that the justices will rely on objective interpretations of the law rather than their personal opinions. Nearly half, 48 percent, are not confident of the court’s impartiality.

“That lawsuit should have never made it this far,” said Hal Lewis, a retiree from Scranton, Pennsylvania.

“If they rule for the people who are bringing the suit, it could be close to the destruction of Obamacare in this country,” added Lewis, who once edited a local newspaper in his city.

Lewis is one of the relatively few people — 13 percent — who say they are closely following the case, called King v. Burwell.

Opponents of the law argue that as literally written, the law only allows the federal government to subsidize premiums in states that have set up their own insurance markets, also known as exchanges. Most states have not done so, relying instead on the federal HealthCare.gov website.

The Obama administration says opponents are misreading the Affordable Care Act by focusing on just a few words. When the legislation is read in context, it’s clear that lawmakers wanted to help uninsured people in every state, the administration maintains.

If the court sides with the plaintiffs, it’s estimated that 8 million to 9 million people across more than 30 states could lose coverage. They would be unable to afford their premiums without the subsidies, which are keyed to household income. A decision is expected late in June.

In a twist, the poll found that opponents of the law, who tend to be politically conservative, have less confidence in the objectivity of a court with a conservative majority. Among foes, 60 percent are not confident, compared with 44 percent of the law’s supporters.

“That is incredibly powerful that a court associated with conservative views is not well trusted by Republicans,” said Robert Blendon, who tracks public opinion on health care at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Blendon said the law’s opponents may be remembering the court’s 2012 ruling in which Chief Justice John Roberts cast the key vote to uphold the law.

Regardless of how the public feels about the court’s internal deliberations, a majority wants the justices to allow subsidies to continue flowing in all 50 states, an opinion in line with the administration’s position.

Fifty-six percent said the court should keep the subsidies without restriction, while 39 percent said the financial aid should be limited to residents of states that set up their own health insurance markets.

It’s less clear what people would want Congress to do if the court were to side with the law’s opponents. A ruling for the plaintiffs would invalidate health insurance subsidies in states without their own exchanges. Many of those states have Republican governors and legislatures that have resisted the health care law.

The poll found that a bare majority, 51 percent, wants Congress to amend the law to make it clear that people are entitled to help regardless of what their state leaders do.

But 44 percent prefer that Congress leave the law as is and let states decide whether they want to create insurance exchanges that would allow their residents to receive subsidies.

“It suggests there’s a political opening for Republicans to offer a way for people to continue receiving subsidies through some sort of state arrangement,” Blendon said.

State leaders would have to move fast. Some legal experts say it would be only weeks before the subsidies dry up; others say it’s possible the administration could continue payments through the end of this year.

Ethan Levesque of Augusta, Maine, said he is troubled by the federal law’s requirement that virtually all U.S. residents get health insurance or risk fines from the IRS.

“I feel like it should actually be the determination of the states to decide health coverage,” said Levesque, a customer service representative for a telecommunications company.

“There is definitely nothing wrong with health care whatsoever, but it’s the way that this has been presented to people that I have problems with,” he said.

The poll found sharp splits on whether Congress should intervene.

Two-thirds of Democrats think Congress should amend the law to save the subsidies, but only 31 percent of Republicans shared that view. Half of independents want Congress to update the law if necessary, while 41 percent think it should be kept as is.

Leading congressional Republicans have said they would step in to prevent health insurance markets from unraveling, but they have not spelled out details.

It’s estimated that 15 million to 17 million adults have gained coverage since the fall of 2013, when the law’s big insurance expansion began. But the nation is divided over Obama’s major domestic policy achievement.

The poll found 27 percent of Americans support the law, while 38 percent oppose it and 34 percent say they neither support nor oppose it.

___

The AP-GfK Poll of 1,077 adults was conducted online April 23-27, 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.

___

Online:

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


AP-GfK Poll: Immigration not a deal breaker for Republicans

By EMILY SWANSON  Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans are split down the middle on whether they would prefer to vote for a candidate who wants to keep or undo President Barack Obama’s executive action to let some immigrants living in the U.S. illegally stay in the country, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll.

But even Republicans don’t necessarily see a candidate’s support for that action as a deal breaker for their votes.

The poll was conducted before former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Tuesday that she supports a path to citizenship and that, if elected president, she would expand the protections for immigrants laid out in Obama’s executive action.

Five things to know about public opinion on immigration:

HALF SUPPORT PATH TO CITIZENSHIP, LEGAL STATUS

Most Americans – 53 percent – say they favor providing a way for immigrants who are already in the United States illegally to become U.S. citizens, while 44 percent are opposed.

And although Clinton drew a stark line Tuesday between support for citizenship and support for legal status to stay, the poll shows that distinction makes little difference in people’s support for a change in immigration policy.

Among Americans asked if they favor a way for those already in the United States to stay legally, 50 percent were in favor and 48 percent opposed – not a significant difference from support for a path to citizenship.

DIVISION OVER OBAMA EXECUTIVE ACTION

Forty-nine percent say they’re more likely to support someone who wants to keep Obama’s immigration action in place, while 47 percent would rather vote for someone who wants to undo it, the AP-GfK poll shows.

That’s true even though most Americans support the policies that make up the executive action. Fifty-nine percent favor providing a way for immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children to stay legally, and 57 percent support allowing those who are in the country but whose children are U.S. citizens or permanent residents to stay.

Americans on both sides of the executive action issue are just as likely to say that they could imagine voting for a candidate who disagrees with them as say they could not.

NOT A DEAL BREAKER FOR REPUBLICANS

Even among Republicans, many say they could see themselves voting for a candidate who wants to keep Obama’s action in place.

Three-quarters of Republicans say they would prefer to vote for a candidate who would undo it, but a combined 55 percent would either prefer to support a candidate who would keep it in place or could imagine themselves voting for such a candidate.

Even among conservative Republicans, nearly half – 47 percent – could at least imagine voting for a candidate who would keep the action in place.

Significant minorities of Republicans – about 4 in 10 – support allowing immigrants brought to the United States as children, along with parents of citizens or permanent residents, to stay legally.

LINE IN THE SAND FOR HISPANICS

Three-quarters of Hispanics in the poll say that they would prefer to support a candidate who would keep Obama’s executive action in place, and a majority – 53 percent of Hispanics overall – say they definitely could not support a candidate who wants to undo it.

Eight in 10 Hispanics in the poll favor allowing those brought to the country as children, and those who are parents of citizens or permanent residents, to stay legally.

Hispanics are more likely to trust Democrats than Republicans on handling immigration, 36 percent to 21 percent. But nearly a third don’t trust either party on the issue.

Among all Americans, 30 percent trust Democrats more and 26 percent trust Republicans more, while29 percent trust neither party and 15 percent trust both equally.

MOST DISAPPROVE OF OBAMA’S HANDLING OF IMMIGRATION

Americans are more likely to disapprove than approve of how the president is handling immigration, 57 percent to 42 percent. That’s unchanged since the last AP-GfK poll early in February.

Fifty-seven percent of Americans call immigration a very or extremely important issue to them personally, up slightly since 52 percent in February.

Among Hispanics, 6 in 10 approve of how Obama is handling immigration. In October, before he announced the immigration action, only 3 in 10 did.

The AP-GfK Poll of 1,077 adults was conducted online April 23-27, 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 asked of a half sample and have a higher margin 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.

Online:

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

Follow Emily Swanson on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/EL-Swan