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.






How the poll was conducted



     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 .

Topline results are available at and

AP-GfK Poll: Clerks must issue gay marriage licenses
WASHINGTON (AP) — Linda Massey opposes gay marriage. But she was incensed last summer to see that Kim Davis, a Kentucky county clerk, was refusing to issue marriage licenses to gay couples.

“If the government says you have to give out those marriage licenses, and you get paid to do it, you do it,” says the 64-year-old retiree from Lewiston, Michigan. “That woman,” she said of Davis, “should be out of a job.”

Americans like Massey are at the heart of a shift in public opinion, an Associated Press-GfK poll has found. For the first time, most Americans expect government officials to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, even over religious objections.

It’s partly a matter of expecting public servants to do their jobs. But more broadly, the issue touches on a familiar dispute over which constitutional value trumps which: religious freedom, or equality under the law?

The question in recent months has entangled leaders with political sway, among them Pope Francis and the 2016 presidential contenders. But it’s not a new conflict for a nation that has long wrestled with the separation of church and state.

Where Davis’s answer was the First Amendment’s protection of religious freedom — and she served jail time to back it up — a majority of respondents don’t buy that argument when it comes to public officials issuing marriage licenses. That’s a shift since an AP-GfK survey in July, when Americans were about evenly split. Then, 49 percent said officials with religious objections should be exempt from issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples and 47 percent said they should be required to issue them.

Now, just 41 percent favor an exemption and 56 percent think they should be required to issue the licenses.

That shift was especially stark among Republicans. A majority of them —58 percent — still favor religious exemptions for officials issuing marriage licenses, but that’s down 14 points since 72 percent said so in July.

The timing of the surveys is important, coming during rapid developments in the politics of gay rights and religious freedom.

Public opinion has favored same-sex marriage in recent years and some politicians — President Barack Obama, 2016 presidential contender Hillary Rodham Clinton and some members of Congress among them — have come around to that view. In June, the Supreme Court effectively legalized gay marriage nationwide.

The cultural change has influenced the governing bodies of some of the most conservative religions, including the Catholic Church under Pope Francis and the Mormon Church, which last week called for compromises between protecting religious liberties and prohibiting discrimination. Both institutions are trying to accommodate society’s shifting views while keeping a firm grip internally on their own doctrines against gay marriage and homosexual activity. And both churches steered clear of the appearance of backing Davis. The Vatican said the pope’s brief meeting with her in Washington should not be construed as a sign of support.

Mormon leader Dallin H. Oaks last week told a closed gathering of judges and clergy in Sacramento, California, that when conflicts between religion and law rise and are decided, citizens of a democracy must follow court rulings.

Davis, a Democrat, Apostolic Christian and clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky, became the face of religious Americans who bristle at government requirements that conflict with their beliefs, whether those mandates cover gay marriage, contraception or abortion referrals. On June 27 — the day after the high court ruling — Davis refused to issue same-sex marriage licenses. In September she spent five days in jail for defying a court order to issue the licenses. Affixing her name to the certificate, she wrote in a statement, “would violate my conscience.” After serving her jail sentence, Davis returned to work — but her name no longer appears on marriage licenses for gay couples.

Nick Hawks, a business consultant in Ararat, North Carolina, agrees with Davis.

“We’ve got to decide at some point who’s going to be protected first,” said the father of three boys, 50, who says he’s a Republican-leaning independent. “It doesn’t seem quite fair” to allow a minority such as gay people to “control the policy.”

More generally, the poll offers evidence that Americans remain slightly more likely to say that it’s more important for the government to protect religious liberties than the rights of gays and lesbians when the two come into conflict, 51 percent to 45 percent. But that, too, is a slight shift since July, when 56 percent said it’s more important to protect religious liberties.


The AP-GfK Poll of 1,027 adults was conducted online Oct. 15 to Oct. 19, 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 otherwise have access to the Internet were provided access at no cost to them.



Poll results:

AP-GfK Poll: Americans still feeling economic gloom

WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans are more likely than they were a year ago to have positive views of the nation’s economy, but they’re still feeling more pessimism than optimism, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll conducted ahead of CNBC’s GOP primary debate on Wednesday.

The candidates will attempt to impress Republicans in particular, who the poll finds feel much gloomier about the economy than Democrats.

Here are some things to know about opinions on the economy from the latest AP-GfK poll:



A majority of Americans — 54 percent — say the nation’s economy is poor, the new poll shows. Just 45 percent call it good. Still, views of the economy are slightly rosier than they were over the summer, when a July AP-GfK poll found 41 percent of Americans described the economy as good, and more positive than they were a year ago, when just 38 percent said so.

Half of men, but just 4 in 10 women, describe the economy as good.

Americans are even less likely to see the nation heading in a positive direction overall. Just 36 percent think the country is heading in the right direction, while 63 percent think it’s headed in the wrong direction.

More than 8 in 10 Americans in the new poll described the economy as an extremely or very important issue, down slightly since July. Still, the economy rates higher in importance than any other issue in the poll.



The candidates will aim their messages at a Republican Party that has a particularly negative view of the economy.

While 65 percent of Democrats describe the economy as good, just 29 percent of Republicans say the same. Seven in 10 Republicans say the economy is poor, including more than 8 in 10 GOP supporters of the tea party. Eight-five percent of Republicans say the country is heading in the wrong direction.

Independents, too, are unhappy with the economy, with 33 percent seeing it as good and 62 percent poor.



Few Americans — just 17 percent — think the economy has improved over the past month, while 21 percent think it has gotten worse and the bulk — 60 percent — think it’s stayed about the same.

Most Americans don’t expect to see improvement in either the nation’s economy or their own financial situations in the next year, either.

Thirty-one percent say they expect the general economic situation to get better, 32 percent expect it to get worse, and 34 percent expect it to stay about the same. Likewise, 29 percent expect their household financial situation to get better, 25 percent expect it to get worse, and 44 percent expect it to stay the same.

Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say the economy has gotten worse in the last month, 31 percent to 13 percent. Democrats are more likely than Republicans to expect it to get better in the next year, 40 percent to 21 percent.



Whichever GOP candidate emerges victorious in next year’s presidential primaries will need to convince Americans that the party can do a better job than Democrats at handling economic issues.

Americans are slightly more likely to say they trust Democrats than Republicans more on handling the economy, 29 percent to 24 percent, the poll shows.

But neither party’s a clear winner on the issue — 15 percent say they trust both equally and 30 percent say they trust neither party.

Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say they trust neither party, 29 percent to 17 percent. A majority of independents — 55 percent — don’t trust either party.



Americans are slightly more likely to disapprove than approve of President Barack Obama’s handling of the economy, 52 percent to 46 percent, according to the new poll. But that’s an apparent rise in his approval rating on the issue since July, when just 42 percent said they approved.

Americans’ rating of Obama on the economy is nearly identical to how they feel about how he’s handling his job overall, with 46 percent approving and 52 percent disapproving.


The AP-GfK Poll of 1,027 adults was conducted online from Oct. 15 to 19. The sample was 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 selected randomly using telephone or mail survey methods and interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel without Internet access were provided it for free.



Poll results: