- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 3, 2005

A battle of the Social Security polls has developed, with supporters of private accounts accusing the AARP of distorting the issue when polling its members and the AARP charging that supporters of the president’s plan continually gloss over possible pitfalls in its surveys.

The AARP — the powerful lobbying group formerly known as the American Association of Retired Persons that represents 35 million people older than 50 — released a poll last week that showed that 59 percent of its members either strongly opposed or somewhat opposed the creation of private accounts.

“Here’s a shock: People over 50 are anxious about changing Social Security,” said pollster Gene Ulm of Public Opinion Strategies, a Republican firm. “I’m having a hard time seeing the news here. It’s like interviewing Democrats and finding out they like John Kerry more than George Bush.”

Supporters of the president’s idea to allow younger workers to take a portion of their Social Security taxes and invest them in personal retirement accounts, however, are irked by the AARP’s claim that the more that people learn about Mr. Bush’s plan, the less they like it.

The AARP, which has spent about $20 million so far on its efforts to stop private accounts, asked the 29 percent of members who liked the idea “What if you heard that creating private accounts out of Social Security funds will put more of your retirement savings at risk?”

The AARP also said that private accounts “will create losers as well as winners” and that those who lost money in their conservatively managed accounts in stocks and bonds would have to be bailed out by the government.

The AARP claimed that private accounts would “drain money out of Social Security,” cause the federal government to “borrow large sums of money” and “could mean cuts in everyone’s Social Security benefits.”

After being presented with those scenarios, about three-quarters of those who supported private accounts changed their minds.

Charlie Jarvis, chairman and chief executive of USA Next — a conservative senior citizens group that sees itself as a foil to the AARP — called the AARP poll “despicable,” saying its “emotional language” was designed to “guide them to a preselected answer.”

“It’s a classic push poll,” Mr. Jarvis said. “Their polls are completely manipulated surveys intended to reinforce views they have politically. For anyone to believe anything in any AARP poll would be a mistake.”

USA Next commissioned its own poll in February that showed that 65 percent of respondents approve of private accounts if they are voluntary and if there is a “guaranteed safety net” in the event the accounts pay out less than the government can deliver — which are the key elements of the most popular reform bills being talked about in Congress.

“AARP doesn’t ever ask questions relative to any specific plan,” Mr. Jarvis said. “It’s because they don’t want the answer, which is positive, even among many seniors.”

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