By STEPHEN OHLEMACHER and JENNIFER AGIESTA, Associated Press

 WASHINGTON (AP) — Struggling to figure out your federal tax return? You’re not alone, but you’re in the minority.

With the tax filing deadline looming next week, a majority of Americans say completing a federal tax return is easy, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll.

The findings defy conventional wisdom in Washington, where politicians have made careers out of promising a simpler tax system. In another blow to advocates of tax reform, almost no one is willing to pay higher taxes in exchange for a simpler code.

“If you’ve got the equivalent of a high school degree and you know how to do math, it’s very simple,” said Sara Thornton, a small business owner from East Granby, Conn.

Only 7 percent of those surveyed say they would be willing to pay more in federal taxes if the process of filling out a tax return were easier. Some 90 percent say “no, thanks.”

“No, because I don’t know that it is that difficult,” said Alicia Brown of suburban Des Moines, Iowa. “We already pay outlandish taxes because we live in Iowa. We have very high real estate taxes.”

The tax-writing committees in Congress have spent the past several years trying to build momentum for the herculean task of simplifying the tax code. One reason it’s so difficult is there are bound to be winners and losers. Sweeping changes to precious tax breaks will undoubtedly leave some people paying more, while others pay less.

One selling point for tax reform has been a simpler tax form. Ever hear a politician say you should be able to fill out your taxes on the back of a postcard? You’ll probably hear it again during this fall’s elections.

The National Taxpayer Advocate says filers spend a total of 6.1 billion hours a year preparing tax returns, at a cost of $168 billion. According to the IRS, 90 percent of filers either pay a tax preparer or use computer software to help them fill out their returns.

But 58 percent in the AP-GfK poll say completing a federal tax return is easy. Thirty-eight percent call it hard.

Fully 86 percent who have completed their tax forms say they are extremely confident or very confident that they filled them out correctly.

Not surprisingly, higher income taxpayers are more likely to say that filling out tax forms is difficult. Wealthy people tend to have more complicated taxes because they often have multiple sources of income and they are more likely to itemize their deductions, making them eligible for more tax breaks.

Forty-five percent of those with incomes above $100,000 said it is hard, compared with 33 percent among those making less than $50,000.

Through March 28, the IRS has processed 89 million returns. About 82 percent have qualified for refunds, averaging $2,831. That’s about $207 billion in tax refunds. Almost 91 percent of returns have been filed electronically.

Americans think most of their fellow taxpayers are honest, but not all of them. On average, poll-takers estimate that about one-third of Americans intentionally cheat when filling out their tax returns.

Erma Pierce of Poplar Bluff in southeast Missouri said she thinks about half of people cheat on their taxes, and she takes a dim view of it.

“You’re not supposed to cheat, lie or steal,” Pierce said. “It’s against the Bible.”

Thornton, the small business owner in Connecticut, said her estimate depends on the definition of cheating.

“People think of cheating as a case of, I reported I have nine children and I only have two. Or I reported I only made $20,000 this year and I actually made $50,000,” Thornton said. “They think of those forms of cheating, the absolute blatant, extravagant forms.”

Thornton’s definition of cheating is broader, which is why she thinks 80 percent to 90 percent of people cheat on their taxes.

“The minor forms of cheating are things like, well, I can increase my charitable deduction by $200,” Thornton said. “Most people consider, quote, unquote padding their income tax reporting or shaving it off a little bit, they don’t necessarily view that as cheating.”

“I define that as cheating only because it really is.”

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted March 20-24, 2014 using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based online panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,012 adults, and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points for all respondents.

Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods, and were 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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AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed to this report.

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Online:

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

Follow Stephen Ohlemacher on Twitter: http://twitter.com/stephenatap

AP-GfK Poll: Disapproval, doubt dominate on Ebola

By LAURAN NEERGAARD and EMILY SWANSON

WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans have at least some confidence that the U.S. health care system will prevent Ebola from spreading in this country but generally disapprove of the way President Barack Obama and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have handled the crisis so far.

Most disapprove of Obama’s handling of the Ebola outbreak, according to an Associated Press-GfK Poll. Just 1 in 5 approve of the CDC’s work on Ebola so far, and only 3 in 10 say they trust that public health officials are sharing complete and accurate information about the virus. And only 18 percent have deep confidence that local hospitals could safely treat a patient with Ebola.

Amid worry here, most Americans say the U.S. also should be doing more to stop Ebola in West Africa. Health authorities have been clear: Until that epidemic ends, travelers could unknowingly carry the virus anywhere.

“It seems to me we have a crisis of two things. We have a crisis of science, and either people don’t understand it or … they don’t believe it,” said Dr. Joseph McCormick, an Ebola expert at the University of Texas School of Public Health. And, “we have a crisis in confidence in government.”

Some findings from the AP-GfK poll:

HEALTH CARE GETS MIXED REVIEWS

Nearly a quarter of Americans are very confident the U.S. health care system could prevent Ebola from spreading widely, and 40 percent are moderately confident.

But nearly half don’t think their local hospital could safely treat an Ebola case, and 31 percent are only moderately confident that it could.

After all, Thomas Eric Duncan, the first Ebola patient diagnosed in the U.S., at first was mistakenly sent home by a Dallas emergency room, only to return far sicker a few days later. Then, two nurses caring for him somehow became infected. The family of one of the nurses, Amber Vinson, said Wednesday doctors no longer could detect Ebola in her as of Tuesday evening.

Asked how the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention handled those cases, 42 percent of people disapprove and 22 percent approve.

FEAR VS. KNOWLEDGE

Despite months of headlines about Ebola, nearly a quarter of Americans acknowledge they don’t really understand how it spreads. Another 36 percent say they understand it only moderately well.

Ebola doesn’t spread through the air or by casual contact, and patients aren’t contagious until symptoms begin. Ebola spreads through close contact with a symptomatic person’s bodily fluids, such as blood, vomit, feces, urine, saliva, semen or sweat.

People who say they do understand are less concerned about Ebola spreading widely in this country. Among those who feel they have a good grasp on how it spreads, 46 percent are deeply concerned; that rises to 58 percent among those who don’t understand it as well.

Likewise, a third of those with more knowledge of Ebola are confident in the health system’s ability to stem an outbreak, and 27 percent think their local hospital could safely treat it. Among those who don’t understand Ebola, fewer than 1 in 5 shares either confidence.

WHAT SHOULD BE DONE

A whopping 93 percent of people think training of doctors and nurses at local hospitals is necessary to deal with Ebola, with nearly all of them, 78 percent, deeming it a definite need.

Nine out of 10 also think it’s necessary to tighten screening of people entering the U.S. from the outbreak zone, including 69 percent who say that’s definitely needed.

Some would go even further: Almost half say it’s definitely necessary to prevent everyone traveling from places affected by Ebola from entering the U.S. Another 29 percent say it’s probably necessary to do so.

More than 8 in 10 favor sending medical aid to Ebola-stricken countries and increasing government funding to develop vaccines and treatments.

SOME NEW STEPS

The CDC had issued safe-care guidelines to hospitals long before Duncan arrived last month, and it made some changes this week after the unexpected nurse infections. Now, the CDC says hospitals should use full-body garb and hoods and follow rigorous rules in removing the equipment to avoid contamination, with a site manager supervising. Possibly more important, workers should repeatedly practice the donning and doffing and prove they can do it correctly before being allowed near any future patients.

While Duncan wasn’t contagious during his flight, his arrival spurred U.S. officials to begin checking passengers arriving from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea for fever, an early Ebola symptom, just like they’re checked before leaving those countries.

Wednesday, the CDC moved to fill a gap in that screening: Starting next week, all of those travelers must be monitored for symptoms for 21 days, the Ebola incubation period. They’ll be told to take their temperature twice a day and must report the readings to state or local health officials.

That’s not just for West African visitors. It includes U.S. government employees, who had been doing their own 21-day fever watches upon return from fighting the epidemic, as well as doctors and other workers for aid organizations and journalists.

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 has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points for all respondents. 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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Online:

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


AP-GfK Poll: Americans want tighter Ebola screening, concerned government hasn’t done enough

By LAURAN NEERGAARD and EMILY SWANSON, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans overwhelmingly want tougher screening for Ebola, according to a poll released as federal health authorities took new steps to do just that.

Many are worried about Ebola spreading here, and two-thirds say the government hasn’t done enough to prevent that from happening, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll.

Some things to know:

THE PUBLIC WANTS MORE TRAVEL SCRUTINY

The AP-GfK poll found 9 out of 10 people — unusually high agreement on any issue — think it’s necessary to tighten screening procedures for people entering the U.S. from the outbreak zone in West Africa, including 69 percent who say it’s definitely needed.

Some would go even further: Almost half say it’s definitely necessary to prevent everyone traveling from places affected by Ebola from entering the U.S. Another 29 percent say it’s probably necessary to do so.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned since summer that an infected traveler eventually would arrive in the U.S., and it finally happened last month when Thomas Eric Duncan developed symptoms of Ebola a few days after arriving from Liberia. He died on Oct. 8.

WHAT IS THE GOVERNMENT DOING

While Duncan wasn’t contagious during his flight, his arrival spurred U.S. officials to begin checking passengers arriving from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea for a fever, an early Ebola symptom, just like they’re checked before leaving those countries.

The AP-GfK poll suggested that wasn’t enough.

Wednesday, the CDC moved to fill a gap in that screening: Starting next week, all of those travelers must be monitored for symptoms for 21 days, the Ebola incubation period. They’ll be told to take their temperature twice a day and must report the readings to state or local health officials.

That’s not just for West African visitors. It includes U.S. government employees, who had been doing their own 21-day fever watches upon return from fighting the epidemic, as well as doctors and other workers for aid organizations, and journalists.

WHY NOT A TRAVEL BAN

The Obama administration says that’s not on the table. Already, there are no direct flights to the U.S. from the outbreak zone, and the airport with the most travelers from West Africa — New York’s Kennedy airport — has averaged 34 travelers a day since entry screening began. Health experts say a travel ban would prevent medical supplies and health workers from reaching West Africa, and could drive travelers underground and hinder screening of potential Ebola carriers.

AMERICANS FEAR EBOLA’S SPREAD HERE

Nearly half of Americans are very or extremely concerned that Ebola will spread widely in the U.S. After all, two nurses caught it while caring for Duncan.

Health experts had hoped that fear would start to dwindle, considering that people who shared an apartment with Duncan while he was sick emerged healthy from quarantine this week — showing the virus isn’t all that easy to catch.

FEAR VS. KNOWLEDGE

But despite months of headlines about Ebola, nearly a quarter of Americans acknowledge they don’t really understand how Ebola spreads. Another 36 percent say they understand it only moderately well.

People who say they do are less concerned about Ebola spreading widely in this country. Among those who feel they have a good grasp on how it spreads, 46 percent are deeply concerned; that rises to 58 percent among those who don’t understand it as well.

Ebola doesn’t spread through the air or by casual contact, and patients aren’t contagious until symptoms begin. Ebola spreads through close contact with a symptomatic person’s bodily fluids, such as blood, vomit, feces, urine, saliva, semen or sweat.

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 has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points for all respondents. 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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Online:

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