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5 hints about November election from AP-GfK poll

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WASHINGTON (AP) — Nearly half of Americans don't care very much which party wins control of Congress after the elections this fall, according to the latest Associated Press-GfK poll. But even though most eligible Americans opt out of voting in a typical midterm election, there still will be winners and losers come Election Day. Here's a look at five findings from the poll that could be meaningful come Nov. 4.

SO WHO DOES CARE?

Those who say they care a good deal which party wins control of Congress in November are evenly divided on which party they want to see win; 45 percent prefer Republicans, 44 percent Democrats. These engaged adults are nearly twice as likely as others to describe themselves as Republicans (45 percent call themselves Republicans vs. 23 percent among those who don't care very much about party control). They lean more conservative generally, across social issues as well as economic ones.

Just over half describe themselves as middle class (55 percent), 7 in 10 are white and 53 percent are female.

INDEPENDENTS FEELING ESPECIALLY DETACHED

Turnout among each party's ideological core may lead one or the other to victory, with independents increasingly disenchanted with both parties. In the new poll, 78 percent of independents said it doesn't matter which party wins control of Congress, and 79 percent wanted their incumbent voted out. Both figures have increased since March.

But that disaffection isn't translating into action. Independents aren't as enthusiastic about the election as are Republicans or Democrats, particularly those at the ideological core in either party.

Six in 10 liberal Democrats say it matters a good deal who wins in November, as do 77 percent of conservative Republicans. Among independents, just 20 percent say the same.

TARGETED GROUPS NOT HIT YET

Both Democrats and Republicans are vying for support from women and Hispanics in their 2014 campaigns, yet the poll suggests that outreach may not yet have sold either group on the importance of this election. Democrats have an overall advantage among both groups as the preferred party to wind up in control of Congress next year. Among Hispanics, however, just 41 percent say it doesn't matter which party controls Congress. And less than half of unmarried or younger women say they care a great deal who wins.

TOP ISSUES

Nearly 9 in 10 call the economy an important problem (86 percent) and it's the only issue in the poll which a majority considers "extremely important." The economy tops the list of issues among those who care deeply about the election's outcome as well as those who don't. From there, priorities diverge.

To the disengaged, health care is more vital than the federal budget. Those two issues are about even in importance among people who care deeply about the election.

Regardless of interest in the outcome of the election, about 7 in 10 call gas prices a top issue. Among the disengaged, that makes it the third most important issue, while it ranks lower among those invested in the outcome.

Immigration is far more important for those who care deeply about the elections' outcome (60 percent) than those who do not (43 percent), but the environment merits a top rating from majorities in both groups (56 percent among those who care, 55 percent among those who don't).

ON OBAMA, LITTLE CHANGE

President Barack Obama's approval rating holds steady in the new poll, with 43 percent approving and 56 percent disapproving of how he's handling the presidency. Obama's approval is about the same among those invested in the election as it is among those who don't care much about the outcome.

But two issues the White House has recently touted are also the only two issues tested in the poll on which the president's approval ratings fell. On handling the environment, less than half now approve of the president's performance — 48 percent in the new poll compared with 56 percent in a December AP-GfK poll, and positive ratings for his handling of unemployment have dipped to 40 percent from 45 percent in January.

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted May 16-19, 2014 using KnowledgePanel, GfK's probability-based online panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,354 adults, and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.0 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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Online:

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

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