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Poll Shows Support for Bush Social Security Plan
SOURCE: Washington Times
Donald Lambro
January 28 2005

A majority of Americans, including nearly one-third of Democrats, support President Bush's proposal to let workers voluntarily invest part of their Social Security payroll taxes in stocks and bonds, a nationwide poll shows. Despite a blistering national newspaper ad campaign against Mr. Bush's plan by the AARP and a growing chorus of daily attacks by Democrats, a survey of 1,004 likely voters slated to be released today finds strong public support for the idea, particularly among workers younger than 50. The survey, conducted by independent pollster John Zogby for the Cato Institute, shows 51 percent like the idea of owning individual Social Security investment accounts, while 39 percent oppose them. Support increases to 58 percent among workers younger than 50 -- the target group for Mr. Bush's plan -- and rises to 61 percent among workers younger than 30. As with Mr. Zogby's past surveys on the Social Security reform proposal, support drops among people 65 or older, with 55 percent saying they oppose the idea, although opposition declines to 45 percent when seniors are assured that their benefits will not be touched. Americans are largely split along party lines, with Republicans overwhelmingly backing the proposed change by 74 percent to 14 percent. Democrats, however, are more divided over the issue: 61 percent oppose individual accounts, while 30 percent favor them -- opening up a major constituency when Mr. Bush begins lobbying for his proposal after next week's State of the Union address. Independent voters are more evenly split, 45 percent backing the accounts to 40 percent opposing them, with the rest undecided. Voters do not appear to agree with Democratic leaders who are arguing that the venerable New Deal-era program does not face any serious problems that need to be fixed in the immediate future or even the distant future. Although 14 percent agreed with Mr. Bush that the retirement program is in a "crisis," 61 percent said it faces "serious problems" and needs "major changes," the poll showed. This view seems to undermine Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid's contention at a press conference this week that there was nothing fundamentally wrong with Social Security. "For more than 50 years we're going to be just fine," said Mr. Reid, Nevada Democrat. But a scant 5 percent of voters agreed that the program's finances are fine and just 19 percent agreed that it needs only "minor, incremental changes." As for the short-term risks inherent in the stock market, voters are evenly split between which is riskier, putting their money into Social Security's pay-as-you-go financing system or investing in broadly diversified stock funds approved by the government. Although 41 percent see private investment as riskier because "benefits could go down depending on how investments perform," 44 percent say the existing Social Security system is more of a gamble "because it cannot pay all the benefits promised." "Americans clearly understand the need for fundamental Social Security reform," said Michael Tanner, director of Cato's Project on Social Security Choice. "They are open to the message that individual accounts give workers greater ownership and control over their retirement." The poll was conducted in mid-January and has a margin of error of 3.2 percentage points.

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