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

Deplorable? Trump more so than Clinton, AP-GfK poll finds

WASHINGTON (AP) — It was supposed to be her “47 percent” moment.

When Hillary Clinton said that half of Donald Trump’s supporters belonged in a “basket of deplorables,” Republicans thought they just might have found her campaign-crushing-blunder.

The gaffe, they hoped, was a way to cement an image as an out-of-touch snob, just as Democrats did four years ago to Mitt Romney after he said “47 percent” of voters backed President Barack Obama because they were “dependent on government.”

 But a new Associated Press-GfK poll finds that Clinton’s stumble didn’t have quite the impact that Trump and his supporters wanted. Instead, it’s Trump who’s viewed as most disconnected and disrespectful.

Sixty percent of registered voters say he does not respect “ordinary Americans,” according to the poll. That’s far more than the 48 percent who say the same about Clinton.

Trump supporters had begun showing up at his rallies with shirts and signs riffing on the word “deplorable.” The hashtag #BasketofDeplorables began trending on Twitter, as the Republican nominee’s backers demanded an apology. At a rally last week in Florida, Trump walked out to a song from the play Les Miserables.

“Welcome to all you deplorables!” he shouted, standing in front of a backdrop that read, “Les Deplorables.”

But the poll findings underscore how Trump’s no-holds-barred approach may be wearing on the country. Despite efforts by his campaign to keep him on message, his image as an outspoken firebrand who brazenly skips past societal norms appears deeply ingrained among voters.

Nearly three in four do not view him as even somewhat civil or compassionate. Half say he’s at least somewhat racist. Those numbers are largely unchanged from the last time the AP-GfK survey was conducted in July.

Even among those saying they’ll most likely vote for Trump, 40 percent say they think the word “compassionate” doesn’t describe him well.

“He was always a decent guy even with his marriages and everything,” said David Singer, a retiree from Simsbury, Connecticut. “But when he got on the debate stage something happened to him. The insults just got me crazy. I couldn’t believe what he was telling people.”

Trump is viewed unfavorably by 61 percent of registered voters, and Clinton by 56 percent. But despite her similarly high unfavorability rating, voters do not hold the same negative views about her as they do of Trump.

Only 21 percent believe she’s very or somewhat racist. Half say she’s at least somewhat civil and 42 percent view her as compassionate.

Democrats see Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric as a major campaign asset — for them. Clinton’s campaign spent much of the summer casting Trump as a dangerous force in American society, one that consorts with racists, anti-Semites and white supremacists.

“Our most cherished values are at stake,” Clinton told students at Temple University on Monday. “We have to stand up to this hate. We cannot let it go on.”

It’s a strategy lifted right out of the party’s 2012 playbook. Four years ago, Democrats seized on a leaked video showing Romney at a private fundraiser in Florida dismissing “47 percent” of voters who pay no income tax, people who believe “the government has a responsibility to care for them” and would automatically vote for Obama.

The comment helped Democrats paint the GOP nominee as a heartless plutocrat only concerned about protecting the wealthy, a message they’d been pushing for months through a barrage of battleground state ads.

This year, Clinton’s campaign and allies have spent more than $180 million on TV and radio advertising between mid-June and this week, according to Kantar Media’s political ad tracker. Trump and his supporters spent about $40 million in the same time period.

Many of the Democratic ads focus on Trump, featuring footage of him insulting military leaders, women and immigrants — often with explicit language.

“You can tell them to go f— themselves,” he’s shown saying in ads aired repeatedly by the campaign. The word is bleeped out, but the message is clear.

Clinton’s comments about Trump’s supporters at the fundraiser were a clumsy version of her campaign message, one that she’d expressed in other settings as well.

Speaking to donors in New York City, Clinton said half of Trump’s supporters were in “a basket of deplorables,” a crowd she described as racist, sexist, homophobic or xenophobic. Clinton later said she regretted applying that description to “half” of Trump’s backers, but stuck by her assertion that “it’s deplorable” that the GOP nominee has built his campaign on “prejudice and paranoia” and given a platform to “hateful views and voices.”

Most American voters don’t see his backers as deplorable. Seven percent say Trump’s supporters are generally better people than the average American, 30 percent say they’re worse, and 61 percent consider them about the same.

But Clinton’s comments resonate with the voters her campaign must turn out to the polls in large numbers on Election Day. Fifty-four percent of Democratic voters think that Trump’s backers are generally worse people than the average American.

About half of black and Hispanic voters, and more than 4 in 10 voters under 30 years old, agree.

“He’s a bully and he’s just made it acceptable,” said Patricia Barraclough, 69, a Clinton supporter in Jonesborough, Tennessee. “Since he started running, civility has just gone down the tubes. The name-calling. The bullying. All of a sudden it’s like it’s OK to act on it.”

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The AP-GfK Poll of 1,694 adults, including 1,476 registered voters, was conducted online Sept. 15-19, 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 2.5 percentage points, and for registered voters is plus or minus 2.5 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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AP writer Jill Colvin contributed from Philadelphia.

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Online:

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

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Follow Lisa Lerer and AP Polling Editor Emily Swanson on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/llerer and http://twitter.com/@EL_Swan


AP-GfK Poll: Support grows among Americans for stricter gun laws

By LISA MARIE PANE and RYAN J. FOLEY

Jul. 23, 2016

Americans increasingly favor tougher gun laws by margins that have grown wider after a steady drumbeat of shootings in recent months, but they also are pessimistic that change will happen anytime soon, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll.

Nearly two-thirds of respondents expressed support for stricter laws, with majorities favoring nationwide bans on the sale of semi-automatic assault weapons such as the AR-15 and on the sale of high-capacity magazines holding 10 or more bullets.

The percentage of Americans who want such laws is the highest since the AP-GfK poll started asking the question in 2013, a survey taken about 10 months after the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, that killed 20 children and six educators.

High-profile shootings also appear to have taken a toll on Americans’ sense of safety. Strong majorities of those polled expressed some degree of concern that they or a relative will be a victim of gun violence or a mass shooting.
“If you live in the United States in these days right now, you have to be concerned,” said Milonne Ambroise, a 63-year-old administrative assistant from Decatur, Georgia. “You could be on the street somewhere. You could be at a shopping mall thinking there will be a mass shooting and you will be in the middle of it. You can’t not think about it.”

Ambroise, a native of Haiti who moved to the U.S. nearly 50 years ago, said she is now much more alert and on guard whenever she is in public.

“I’m looking for exits. This isn’t something I did before,” she said. “What if I have to run? Where’s the exit? Where would I go?”

The level of concern about being victimized is not uniform, however. Nonwhites are significantly more likely to be very or extremely concerned.

Alonzo Lassiter, 66, of suburban St. Louis worries that his autistic 17-year-old son could be the victim of gun violence, either by a robber or the police.

“If somebody told him to get on the ground and put his hands up — or told him to give up his headphones — he wouldn’t readily identify those instructions,” said Lassiter, who is black. “He may be an easy target.”

He said straw purchasers who buy and then resell guns to ineligible felons and teenagers have flooded some urban neighborhoods with firearms and need to be stopped.

The poll was conducted July 7 to July 11, shortly after a string of high-profile shootings. That included the Orlando nightclub massacre that left 50 dead, including the gunman, and 53 others wounded, and the fatal police shootings of black men in Minnesota and Louisiana. Most interviews took place after the sniper attack that killed five officers in Dallas.

A majority of respondents expressed a desire for a national approach to gun laws, rather than a patchwork of state laws or local regulations, even though Congress has thus far failed to act on many of the initiatives the poll showed Americans support. Yet less than half of respondents said they believe gun laws will indeed get tougher in the coming year.

By a 55 percent to 43 percent margin, respondents said laws that limit gun ownership do not infringe on the constitutional right to bear arms. But the responses also revealed a partisan divide: 87 percent of Democrats support stricter gun laws compared with 41 percent of Republicans.

Gender and geography are other dividing lines, the poll found. Women and those who live in cities and suburbs are more likely to support gun restrictions than men and those who live in rural areas.

Americans find common ground on other issues. Strong majorities of Democrats and Republicans said they support requiring background checks for people buying firearms at gun shows and through other private sales. They also back a ban on gun sales to people on the federal terrorism watch list even if they have not been convicted of a crime.

“Why should it only be the dealers that have to do the background checks? At gun shows, individual sellers should be required to do the background checks so they don’t end up selling them to the criminal element,” said John Wallace, a disabled Vietnam veteran and former gun dealer who lives in Limestone, Maine, and owns several guns.

Despite the support for tighter gun laws, majorities oppose banning handguns, imposing an Australia-style gun buyback program or making gun manufacturers or sellers liable if guns are later used in a crime.

While 70 percent of people in gun-owning households favor universal background checks, there were stark differences in how gun-owning households and gun-free households view efforts to limit access.

Just 42 percent of those who live in gun-owning households, for example, support bans on assault-style guns and banning high-capacity magazines.

Kimberly Huebner is an exception. The 43-year-old high school special education teacher from San Marcos, Texas, grew up in a household with guns and learned firearms safety. She also believes some restrictions should be imposed, including a ban on AR-style firearms and high-capacity magazines.

Her opinion has been shaped in part by recent mass shootings, she said.

Huebner believes the Second Amendment gives Americans the right to protect themselves against the government, but not necessarily the right to possess any firearm they choose, especially when it comes to AR-platform long guns. Those types of firearms, she said, “just are not necessary. Nobody is using them to hunt deer.”

Instead, she said, some people have a skewed view of the Second Amendment.

“Like the Bible, they use it for their own arguments,” she said. “You can manipulate and twist arguments for your own benefits.”

She believes current laws need to be better enforced, specifically citing gaps in enforcing background checks.

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AP Polling Editor Emily Swanson contributed to this report from Washington, D.C. You can follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/EL_Swan. Follow Lisa Marie Pane at http://twitter.com/lisamariepane and Ryan J. Foley at https://twitter.com/rjfoley.

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The AP-GfK Poll of 1,009 adults was conducted online 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 the KnowledgePanel who did not have access to the internet were provided access for free.

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Online:

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