April 29, 2005

Did the President Score on Social Security?

President Bush’s proposals on Social Security resonate with the public opinion in some respects but are off key in others.

The public is squarely with the president on the urgency of the issue. Pew Research Center polling in February found nearly three-quarters of Americans wanting action on fixing Social Security, either right away or in the next few years.

But there is little public support for the general idea of slowing benefit growth. The Pew survey found only 30% of the public responding favorably to the idea of “lowering the amount that Social Security benefits go up each year for changes in the cost of living” as a way of dealing with the retirement program’s problem. Even among conservative Republicans just 35% favor this idea. The Pew’s survey found much stronger support for another element in Bush’s new proposals. A 58% majority favor limiting “benefits for wealthy retirees” ­ Even six in ten Americans earning $100,000 or more per year back this measure.

Support for the center piece of the president’s proposals, establishing private accounts , remains tepid at best and well below what it was before Bush launched his campaign to sell it to the public. Just 46% favor the proposal, down from as high as 58% last September. However, the president failed to mention one of the most popular alternatives observed in Pew’s survey: raising the payroll tax limit to cover all earnings. Fully 60% of the public says it supports that measure.