Friday, August 21, 2009

Poll: Americans favor Social Security opt-out, oppose tax increases

Ok, since I was a little critical of last week's NASI poll, let me be clear that the results of a new Rasmussen poll are more nuanced than my headline. But it does show how hard it is to really get on top of public opinion – polls taken at the same time can show very different results based on how questions are worded.

Here are the topline results from the new Rasmussen poll, followed by some comments:

1* How confident are you that the Social Security system will pay you all promised retirement benefits during your lifetime?

13% Very confident
25% Somewhat confident
36% Not very confident
24% Not at all confident
3% Not sure

2* One of President Obama's top economic advisors says the president will attempt to reform Social Security before the end of his first term. Should reforming Social Security be one of President Obama's top priorities?

36% Yes
41% No
23% Not sure

3*Should working Americans be allowed to opt out of Social Security and provide for their own retirement planning?

49% Yes
37% No
15% Not sure

4*Should Social Security taxes be increased to insure that all promised benefits are paid?

27% Yes
54% No
20% Not sure

5* Is Social Security a good deal for working Americans today?

47% Yes
38% No
15% Not sure

NOTE: Margin of Sampling Error, +/- 3 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence

Opinions aren't uniform across age categories, as Rasmussen's commentary on the polling shows. Older folks are more likely to say that Social Security is a good deal – probably in part because for them the system is more likely to be a good deal – and younger people are more likely to lack confidence in the program and to want to opt out.

More broadly, you can easily produce different results by framing the question differently, as the NASI poll shows. Some of the questions here are a bit simplistic and I suspect additional pro/con information would alter things. Nevertheless, it's interesting to see what you get when you simply ask people some questions.


Arne said...

Your headline needs a little work again. Given that most people think SS is a good deal, they are really affirming that other people should be allowed to make the mistake of opting out, not that they personally favor opting out for themselves.

Bruce Webb said...

"and younger people are more likely to lack confidence in the program and to want to opt out."

Gosh why would that be?

Butler and Germanis (1983) Achieving Social Security Reform: A "Leninist" Strategy

"Lenin also believed that capitalism was doomed by its inherent contradictions, and would inevitably collapse. But just to be on the safe side, he sought to mobilize the working class, in alliance with other key elements in political society, both to hasten the collapse and to ensure that the result conformed with his interpretation of the proletarian state. Unlike many other socialists at the time, Lenin recognized that fundamental change is contingent both upon a movement’s ability to create a focused political coalition and upon its
success in isolating and weakening its opponents.

The Leninist Strategy suggested three steps: 1) reassure those in or approaching retirement, 2) convince the young that Social Security just would not be there for them, and 3) blame the Boomers.

The only thing that has changed between 1983 and now that the new people to be blamed are the early retirees. I see this poll as nothing more than testing the results of a particular marketing program set in place over 25 years ago. Next time you run across Stuart and or Peter you can congratulate them on a job well done.