Poll: Majority of Americans recognize Social Security is in need of reform

posted at 12:05 pm on September 30, 2011 by Tina Korbe

In further support of Ed’s theory that the third-rail curse is behind us, a CNN/ORC poll released yesterday evening shows that a majority of Americans think Social Security is either “in crisis” or has “major problems.” Perhaps even more importantly, a majority of those polled said they favor at least partial privatization.

Twenty-two percent said the Social Security program is “in crisis,” up from just 17 percent in 2005, while another 49 percent said the program has “major problems.” A full 52 percent said they favor “a proposal … that would allow workers to invest part of their Social Security taxes in the stock market or in bonds, while the rest of those taxes would remain in the Social Security system.” Just 46 percent opposed. In October of 2008, those numbers were quite different: Just 36 percent favored the proposal, while 62 percent opposed it.

But few are willing to say Social Security is unconstitutional. Nearly three-fourths (73 percent) say the program passes the constitutionality test, while less than one-fourth (21 percent) says it doesn’t.

Not surprisingly, opinions about Social Security vary significantly with party affiliation and age. The vast majority of Republicans (65 percent) favor partial privatization, while a majority of Democrats (54 percent) oppose it. Similarly, those aged 18 to 34 are the most likely to want to be able to invest at least a part of their Social Security taxes for themselves. Sixty-five percent of that age bracket favored the proposal, compared to just 33 percent of those 65 and older. Indeed, support for the proposal steadily decreased with age, from 65 percent among 18-to-34-year-olds to 55 percent among 35-to-49-year-olds to 48 percent among 50-to-64-year-olds to 33 percent among the 65+ crowd.

This poll, then, suggests Social Security is pretty safe stumping material, the many disapproving headlines Rick Perry has garnered with his strong censure of the program notwithstanding. I’d say that’s progress. But as Ed pointed out, we desperately need the same shift of opinion on Medicare reform if we truly want to solve the debt and deficit problem. Paul Ryan’s proposals for Medicare reform might not have paid off in NY-26 — and they might not pay off in 2012 — but the appetite for Social Security reform today was surely whetted by George W. Bush’s unsuccessful proposals in the early 2000s. In other words, it’s never too soon to start promoting ideas, even if candidates don’t make them the keystones of their platforms.

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..the third rail just became less fatal; more like the third rail of those Lionel train tracks.

The War Planner on September 30, 2011 at 12:09 PM

Yeah but those people are all racist.

Bishop on September 30, 2011 at 12:09 PM

Can I just please have all the money I paid into it since 1975 and I’ll be happy for any reform you come up with…

Khun Joe on September 30, 2011 at 12:10 PM

But you also need a pro-business environment for private plans to work. I don’t get me wrong I support privitization, but you also need a President that’s not killing the business environment.

Anybody under 30 should not be in social security. People over 50 should still get it. Phase out between 30 to 50. By 2070 social security will fade from memory.

May instead of mortgage interest tax deduction, move the deductions over to Roth IRA’s or Roth 401(k)’s.

Oil Can on September 30, 2011 at 12:15 PM

People know it is doomed, but they want ‘their’ money back.

Can I just please have all the money I paid into it since 1975 and I’ll be happy for any reform you come up with…

Khun Joe on September 30, 2011 at 12:10 PM

See? Joe, you didn’t put money into a retirement plan, you paid a tax.

Vashta.Nerada on September 30, 2011 at 12:18 PM

“a proposal … that would allow workers to invest part of their Social Security taxes in the stock market or in bonds, while the rest of those taxes would remain in the Social Security system get paid out immediately to beneficiaries because the SS ‘lockbox’ has been raided by politicians to buy votes.”

forest on September 30, 2011 at 12:18 PM

Privatize

Make it your property that El Presidente Downgrade can’t threaten as bargaining Chip in budget negotiations.

Wasn’t it in effect supposed to be a ‘private’ account in your name somewhere?

-At least that’s the implication the National Socialist Left likes to make all the time, so why shouldn’t be so?

Chip on September 30, 2011 at 12:19 PM

How about just turning it into a simple spending program?

You don’t have an ‘account’, the money going in is just taxes, and you don’t have any ‘right’ to any money from it. Anything is disbursed by the will of Congress.

Then point out all the great achievements of Congress to people.

That should end it pretty promptly.

ajacksonian on September 30, 2011 at 12:20 PM

Oil Can on September 30, 2011 at 12:15 PM

Just keep in mind that the National Socialist Left would dearly like to make Progress the other way – instead of having Private accounts they would like to seize everyone’s 401(k)’s and flush that money into the gaping maw of the Soc.- security system.

Chip on September 30, 2011 at 12:23 PM

Why isn’t this blog condemning Florida for completely ruining the primary season? An early primary is death for the GOP…

ninjapirate on September 30, 2011 at 12:26 PM

I think people are coming to realize the Brazilian models are much more appealing…

BlueCollarAstronaut on September 30, 2011 at 12:26 PM

Can I just please have all the money I paid into it since 1975 and I’ll be happy for any reform you come up with…

Khun Joe on September 30, 2011 at 12:10 PM

Not trying to pick a fight, but until this mentality is beaten we’ll never get reform.

search4truth on September 30, 2011 at 12:29 PM

Can I just please have all the money I paid into it since 1975 and I’ll be happy for any reform you come up with…

Khun Joe on September 30, 2011 at 12:10 PM

Won’t work that simply. However, I do think that if you were to take the amount paid in and allow it to be used as a tax credit spread over the next 25 years, that could be a mechanism to close the gap for those that have paid in and aren’t going to get anything out.

The political class won’t ever come out and admit to people who are middle aged that they are screwed on all the money they’ve paid in over time. There won’t be reform until a mechanism can be devised to close that gap somewhat.

Not saying or suggesting that everyone will or could be made whole in the ending of this Ponzi scheme, but some attempt will have to be made to close the gap.

Any reform should include a mechanism for tax free investing beyond the current 401k limits for people who will have to catch up after “losing” that big a chunk of change.

That being said. . . I’d still vote for a straight “screw you taxpayer” loss if it meant we could get rid of the unsustainable SS program. Most wouldn’t, but then I’ve already planned for it.

Jason Coleman on September 30, 2011 at 12:42 PM

I think people are coming to realize the Brazilian models are much more appealing…

BlueCollarAstronaut on September 30, 2011 at 12:26 PM

..especially around Carnivale time!

The War Planner on September 30, 2011 at 12:42 PM

For the sake of the Senate races, I think the GOP would be smart to have its candidates do a lot of education on this and other economic issues. The GOP needs to show the public that the Dems are economic nitwits who will turn us into Greece if we don’t turn the keys back over to the GOP–to be watched like hawks.

BuckeyeSam on September 30, 2011 at 12:43 PM

How does this prove SS is safe stumping? Young people don’t vote, old people vote in droves.

haner on September 30, 2011 at 12:43 PM

Anybody under 30 should not be in social security. People over 50 should still get it. Phase out between 30 to 50. By 2070 social security will fade from memory.

Oil Can on September 30, 2011 at 12:15 PM

This sounds great until someone asks the question, then how will the over 50 people get their SS checks? You’re essentially shafting a whole generation from 30 to 50.

haner on September 30, 2011 at 12:48 PM

This is good news for the Pubbies. Dems won’t be able to hang them out to dry over this issue anymore. That’s how bad the Dems have handled the economy since 2006, their threats are becoming moot. Nice work for Perry to nail it as a Ponzi scheme, with backup from Cain recommending the Chilean model of private retirement plans. The Gang of 12 Superduper Committee should latch onto something similar and shove it under Obama’s nose this November.

Bob in VA on September 30, 2011 at 12:52 PM

Jason Coleman on September 30, 2011 at 12:42 PM

Not disagreeing with anything you said, just have a question. There was a caller on Mark Levin’s radio program last night and said that when S.S. was first enacted it was an Insurance program.

Is that true and when did it get re-defined into a Tax?

Thanks.

bluefox on September 30, 2011 at 12:56 PM

Maybe, just maybe, this Country isn’t as stupid as it often appears to be.

David in ATL on September 30, 2011 at 1:01 PM

Here’s the poll question you won’t ever see during a campaign year:

If you could, right at this moment, opt out of the Social Security program and forego any benefits, would you chose to do so?

Hey, lets’ have our HA hosts conduct a such a poll!

BobMbx on September 30, 2011 at 1:01 PM

….when S.S. was first enacted it was an Insurance program.

Is that true and when did it get re-defined into a Tax?

Thanks.

bluefox on September 30, 2011 at 12:56 PM

That’s how it was sold to the public, but it’s never been run like a traditional insurance program.

I don’t think it’s ever been officially redefined as a tax.

I would suggest that once Congress started taking the money from the “SS Trust Fund” and substituting IOU’s, it became a tax for all practical purposes.

Jason Coleman on September 30, 2011 at 1:01 PM

But as Ed pointed out, we desperately need the same shift of opinion on Medicare reform if we truly want to solve the debt and deficit problem. Paul Ryan’s proposals for Medicare reform might not have paid off in NY-26 — and they might not pay off in 2012 — but the appetite for Social Security reform today was surely whetted by George W. Bush’s unsuccessful proposals in the early 2000s.

Medicare will definitely have to be addressed, but entitlement reform is a very difficult issue that has historically been toxic with voters. We should be weary of moving too fast on too many issues at once (see: Democrats in 2009). Rather than pursuing reform of Social Security and Medicare in tandem, we should first reform Social Security and then, having built up some trust with the public, pursue the more difficult changes that will be needed for Medicare. While reforming Social Security, we could pursue other growth-oriented measures like tax reform and legislative curtailment of regulatory power. That kind of success would give us the momentum and trust we will need for any serious, Ryan-style Medicare reform.

Lawdawg86 on September 30, 2011 at 1:02 PM

I don’t think it’s ever been officially redefined as a tax.

I would suggest that once Congress started taking the money from the “SS Trust Fund” and substituting IOU’s, it became a tax for all practical purposes.

Jason Coleman on September 30, 2011 at 1:01 PM

I’m pretty sure the SC defined it as merely a tax, but I can’t recall the link.

Vashta.Nerada on September 30, 2011 at 1:03 PM

….when S.S. was first enacted it was an Insurance program.

Is that true and when did it get re-defined into a Tax?

Thanks.

bluefox on September 30, 2011 at 12:56 PM

FDR sold it as an insurance program. When it went to SCOTUS as ObamaCare will, FDR argued that it was a tax.

Forked tongue. And there you the strategy Obama will be using.

BobMbx on September 30, 2011 at 1:03 PM

Yes — the public is listening. Most thinking people see and realize the problem.

Now, lets move onto separating it into two broad categories:

1. SS Retirement benefits – We can even keep SSI lumped in (for now). These can be fixed without throwing Granny over the cliff, while still ensuring viability for the younger generations.

2. Medicare/Medicaid – This is the real economy buster. Skyrocketing medical costs are hitting all phases of our economy, medical insurance for individuals, businesses who typically pay half the costs (or thereabouts), and government-funded programs.

If we can make these two distinctions, we can have meaningful dialogue without scaring people, inflammatory language, etc.

OnlyOrange on September 30, 2011 at 1:05 PM

I would suggest that once Congress started taking the money from the “SS Trust Fund” and substituting IOU’s, it became a tax for all practical purposes.

Jason Coleman on September 30, 2011 at 1:01 PM

Uhmmmm….those are interest bearing, special Treasury bonds. Investments…such as they are. Backed by the full faith and credit of the US. Meaning…your labor is required to payback the money you already paid into the SSA.

In other words, its an insurance policy with a 100% deductible.

BobMbx on September 30, 2011 at 1:06 PM

Half of America wants to kill your grandma.

Juyst remember, that ad where a guy rolls grandma off a cliff in her wheelchair was about you.

Scrappy on September 30, 2011 at 1:07 PM

*Just

Scrappy on September 30, 2011 at 1:08 PM

That’s how it was sold to the public, but it’s never been run like a traditional insurance program.

I don’t think it’s ever been officially redefined as a tax.

I would suggest that once Congress started taking the money from the “SS Trust Fund” and substituting IOU’s, it became a tax for all practical purposes.

Jason Coleman on September 30, 2011 at 1:01 PM

Thanks. I may listen again to the program to see if they discussed anything further. Sometimes, the phone rings at the wrong time:-)

bluefox on September 30, 2011 at 1:10 PM

Uhmmmm….those are interest bearing, special Treasury bonds. Investments…such as they are. Backed by the full faith and credit of the US. Meaning…your labor is required to payback the money you already paid into the SSA.

In other words, its an insurance policy with a 100% deductible.

BobMbx on September 30, 2011 at 1:06 PM

I disagree

When Joe writes Fred an IOU for $10,
Fred has an asset worth $10

When Fred writes Fred an IOU for $10,
Fred doesn’t have an asset, he has a reminder that he took $10 out of his piggybank.

Even if Joe and Fred promise to pay interest, doesn’t change that in the second example, Fred still doesn’t have an actual asset.

Jason Coleman on September 30, 2011 at 1:15 PM

FDR sold it as an insurance program. When it went to SCOTUS as ObamaCare will, FDR argued that it was a tax.

Forked tongue. And there you the strategy Obama will be using.

BobMbx on September 30, 2011 at 1:03 PM

Thanks for that info. As I said above, I’m going to listen again to Mark Levin’s program. He and the caller was discussing this at length and I missed part of it.

Regarding the Obamacare going to the S.C., I understood that the issue is the mandate and penalties for not buying it. Didn’t think any language contained a “tax”. I’ve never read anything about any “withholding” as S.S./Medicare etc.

bluefox on September 30, 2011 at 1:17 PM

WOW! That’s quite a change over a short period of time. Guess the liberal old farts are finally waking up to the fact that THE GORACLE lied to them back when he was VP, telling them that they Social Security funds were in a LOCKBOX.

Wonder what else Big Al has lied about?

GarandFan on September 30, 2011 at 1:19 PM

When Joe writes Fred an IOU for $10,
Fred has an asset worth $10

When Fred writes Fred an IOU for $10,
Fred doesn’t have an asset, he has a reminder that he took $10 out of his piggybank.

Even if Joe and Fred promise to pay interest, doesn’t change that in the second example, Fred still doesn’t have an actual asset.

Jason Coleman on September 30, 2011 at 1:15 PM

Thanks for making it easy to understand:-) I’ve done that with my own piggybank!

bluefox on September 30, 2011 at 1:22 PM

It was all the dems doings. Now we pay income tax on SS benefits, your SS withholdings go into the general fund to be spent willy-nilly, and it is a ponzi scheme in the manner someone else is paying your benefits.

Mirimichi on September 30, 2011 at 1:55 PM

Thank God somebody finally woke up and discovered the obvious!
Young people have not expected to see any return on their FICA tax. If there is any hope of giving any return on their payments SS will have to change in some way.

Herb on September 30, 2011 at 2:02 PM

But you also need a pro-business environment for private plans to work. I don’t get me wrong I support privitization, but you also need a President that’s not killing the business environment.

Anybody under 30 should not be in social security. People over 50 should still get it. Phase out between 30 to 50. By 2070 social security will fade from memory.

May instead of mortgage interest tax deduction, move the deductions over to Roth IRA’s or Roth 401(k)’s.

Oil Can on September 30, 2011 at 12:15 PM

Good points, but we should make the privatization optional for young workers–they have a choice to either stay in SS, or make their own investments, without receiving SS benefits at retirement (if they lose their shirt in the stock market, too bad!)

Also, the maximum fraction of payroll taxes that can be privatized should be on a sliding scale with birthdate, so that middle-aged workers pay today’s retirees, while younger people are weaned off the system.

You do need a pro-business environment to entice people into the stock market, so SS reform should be accompanied by a corporate tax cut. Less taxes to the government = more retained profits = higher dividends, and if the price/earnings ratio remains constant, stock prices rise, and people will invest.

Steve Z on September 30, 2011 at 3:04 PM

This is good news for the Pubbies. Dems won’t be able to hang them out to dry over this issue anymore. That’s how bad the Dems have handled the economy since 2006, their threats are becoming moot. Nice work for Perry to nail it as a Ponzi scheme, with backup from Cain recommending the Chilean model of private retirement plans. The Gang of 12 Superduper Committee should latch onto something similar and shove it under Obama’s nose this November.

Bob in VA on September 30, 2011 at 12:52 PM

Now somebody has to do the math and come up with a plan that will pay current retirees while gradually phasing into a self-financed retirement for most people.

Steve Z on September 30, 2011 at 3:07 PM

You’re essentially shafting a whole generation from 30 to 50.

haner on September 30, 2011 at 12:48 PM

Yeah, but we’ve known we would get the shaft re: SS for quite a while now, so it’s not really a surprise.

Mary in LA on September 30, 2011 at 7:48 PM