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Social Security and The Polls


The Washington Post/ABC News poll finds that “by 54 percent to 41 percent, the public supported a plan that would include a reduction in the rate of growth of guaranteed benefits and private savings accounts financed with a portion of payroll taxes.” That’s more support than the president gets for the overall job he’s doing (he has a 52 percent job-approval rating). It’s also way higher than his approval rating on Social Security specifically (38 percent approve of his handling of the issue while disapprove of it).

I’m not sure what to make of the gap between Bush’s low marks on Social Security and the majority support for a Bush-style reform. Two theories come to mind. The first is that the gap reflects the public’s persistently higher trust in the Democrats on Social Security (which the polls also finds). The second is that the Post is exaggerating support for reform.

Here’s its benefit-cut question: “One idea to help keep the Social Security system funded is to reduce the rate of growth in guaranteed benefits for future retirees by up to one and a half percent a year. Would you support or oppose this reduction in the rate of growth in benefits for future retirees as a way to help keep Social Security funded?” It’s nice to see majority support for that idea, but it would be more useful to see the results from a different kind of poll question, one that asked respondents to choose between an unnamed Democrat saying that Bush was slashing Social Security benefits by 40 percent and an unnamed Republican making the counter-argument.

Views on reform vary with age in exactly the way you’d expect. Voters under 45 support it, voters above 45 oppose it.


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