DENVER (AP) — As a season of campaigning enters its intense final weekend, a new Associated Press-GfK poll illustrates the challenge ahead for candidates and their allies trying to rally voters around traditional wedge issues such as abortion and gay marriage. This fall, voters just have other matters on their minds.
Social issues are eclipsed by concerns about the economy, health care, the Islamic State group and Ebola, the poll finds. And hovering over each of these individual issues is a broad dissatisfaction with President Barack Obama and Republican leaders in Congress.
Only 32 percent of likely voters called gay marriage an important issue, compared with 91 percent ranking the economy important, 78 percent with similar concerns about health care and 74 percent naming Ebola important. The issue that some Democrats have emphasized most of all — abortion rights — also has been a relatively low priority, with only 43 percent of likely voters in a September poll ranking it important.
Yet women's health and reproductive rights have been at the center of campaigns for U.S. Senate in Alaska, Iowa, North Carolina and especially Colorado. There, half of the ads aired by Democratic Sen. Mark Udall and those backing his re-election have criticized his GOP opponent, Rep. Cory Gardner, on women's health issues. They include a contention that the 40-year-old congressman from eastern Colorado wants to ban some forms of birth control.
"Democrats this year clearly think that all that you need is that silver bullet of social issues," said Katy Atkinson, a GOP political consultant in Denver. "It's not. You need more."
Voters' views on domestic issues ahead of Tuesday's elections:
ACCESS TO BIRTH CONTROL
Gardner may have been able to parry the offensive by proposing that birth control pills be sold over the counter. After he began airing an ad on his proposal last month — as security concerns rose amid U.S. military action against the Islamic State group in the Middle East and the West Africa outbreak of the Ebola virus — Gardner moved ahead in public polls.
Gardner isn't the only Republican to propose the sale of birth control without a prescription. So, too, have Republicans running for Senate in North Carolina, Virginia and Minnesota.
The poll shows this birth control pill plan is more popular with Democrats than Republicans nationally. Overall, 50 percent of likely voters are in favor of allowing the sale of oral contraceptives over the counter, including 60 percent of Democrats and just 42 percent of Republicans.
At the same time, a narrow majority of all likely voters back the Affordable Care Act requirement that prescription contraception be fully covered by insurance. Notably, that latter provision means selling birth control pills without a prescription would actually raise the out-of-pocket costs for consumers.
One domestic issue that remains a priority for Americans is health care. Only 3 in 10 say they support the overhaul passed in 2010, while nearly half (48 percent) oppose it.
More Americans overall trust the Democratic Party (33 percent) than the Republican Party (24 percent) to handle the issue, but among likely voters the Democratic advantage narrows to 4 points, 36 percent to 32 percent.
If forced to choose a fate for the law, more voters say it should be repealed completely rather than implemented as written, 58 percent to 40 percent. On the other hand, most believe the law will go into effect in something close to its current form: 16 percent think the law will be implemented as passed and 47 percent expect only minor changes. Just a third expect major changes or a complete repeal.
Even among those who expect Republicans to control both the House and Senate after this year's election, 51 percent expect at most minor changes to the law.
Earlier this month, the Supreme Court allowed same-sex marriages to proceed in five states where federal judges had overturned state-level bans. The issue remains a low priority for voters.
A majority of likely voters (56 percent) say they think such rulings are inappropriate and 59 percent say laws about same-sex marriage ought to be the responsibility of state governments. Voters are divided on same-sex marriage in their own state, however, with 44 percent in favor and 45 percent opposed, while 10 percent are neutral.
Still, most see the fight over gay marriage as one that's largely decided. Nearly two-thirds say same-sex marriage is likely to be legal nationwide in the next five years.
The poll suggests immigration is fading from voters' minds as campaigns and the government in Washington have focused elsewhere.
Sixty-five percent of likely voters and 57 percent of all Americans now call immigration an extremely or very important issue. The number among all Americans is down slightly from 62 percent in a July poll that was conducted amid news of a rising number of unaccompanied children attempting to cross the border.
Six in 10 likely voters (61 percent) say illegal immigration is an extremely or very serious problem for the country, and the share of adults saying so has fallen 12 points since July, from 67 percent to 55 percent. Fifty-three percent favor providing a way for immigrants already in the United States illegally to become citizens.
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.
Agiesta, AP's director of polling, reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Stacy A. Anderson and Emily Swanson contributed to this report.
AP-GfK Poll: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com