Monday, May 30, 2005

Most likely voters continue to support President Bush’s proposal to let younger workers invest some of their Social Security payroll taxes through personal accounts, a new survey finds.

The poll by independent pollster John Zogby for the Cato Institute, which is being released today, found that when voters understood the benefits of personal investment accounts, including a better financial rate of return than the current system, the Bush plan was supported by 52 percent of Americans and opposed by 40 percent.

“The thing that is compelling in this poll is that this is the response you get when you use a positive approach on Social Security reform,” Mr. Zogby said. “If you use the ‘Chicken Little, sky-is-falling’ approach, then voters understand that something has to be done, but don’t see the connection between personal accounts and fundamental reform of Social Security.”

“There are a large number of voters, especially those under 50, who don’t think they are getting the best possible deal from Social Security,” he said.

As in past surveys on the president’s personal-accounts proposal, strongest support comes from younger voters under age 30, who embrace the idea by a margin of 66 percent to 23 percent.

Support declines somewhat among voters between 30 and 50, with 58 percent in favor versus 37 percent who oppose it.

Voters over 65 oppose personal accounts 52 percent to 40 percent and those over 70 oppose them by 55 percent to 38 percent.

The survey also contained a warning for the Democrats about how their opposition to any reform of the Social Security system is playing with the electorate.

“By an overwhelming 70-22 percent margin, voters believe that opponents of President Bush’s proposals for Social Security reform have an obligation to put out their own plan for reforming the program,” including 55 percent of Democratic voters, Mr. Zogby said in a report of his findings.

Among supporters, the most popular reason for supporting private accounts was, “It’s my money; I should control it,” Mr. Zogby said. “This was true for every group except African-Americans, who chose inheritability as their biggest reason for supporting accounts.”

The poll’s results suggested that Mr. Bush’s proposal would be much more popular if he focused “on the points in this poll,” Mr. Zogby said in an interview.

“Nobody can understand or relate to the system’s insolvency in 2043. But it wins a majority when the issue is raised as a matter of choice and as a positive opportunity,” he said. “If it’s pitted as just Social Security reform because it is becoming insolvent, that’s not enough.”

Among the poll’s other findings:

• Support was strongest (57 percent to 36 percent) in the “red states” that Mr. Bush carried in his 2004 re-election. Support split more evenly (48 percent to 44 percent) in the Democratic “blue states” that Sen. John Kerry won.

• Voters by 62 percent to 30 percent remained deeply skeptical about Social Security’s promise to pay future benefits. Skepticism was highest among younger voters, with more than 70 percent saying they doubted that the system would be able to pay their benefits when they reached retirement age.

The poll of 1,006 likely voters was conducted May 23-25 and has a margin of error of 3.2 percentage points.

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