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Misconceptions Hurt Social Security Reform in Polls

Survey of 2,000 Adults

March 10-13, 2005 

Does Bush Plan Require Younger Workers to Set Up Personal Accounts?

Yes 25%
No 47%



March 15, 2005--Two major misconceptions about Social Security Reform are costing Personal Retirement Accounts a net 32 percentage points in public opinion polls. Among those over 65, the impact is even greater.

Surveys conducted by Rasmussen Reports in 2005 show that between 36% and 48% of senior citizens believe their own retirement benefits will be cut by President Bush's approach to Social Security. This concern exists despite the fact that the President and other advocates of reform have stated that they will guarantee all promised benefits to those 55 and older. This misconception is widely recognized by activists and journalists, although not many have focused on its impact.

This past weekend, a Rasmussen Reports survey found a second major misconception that is dragging down support for reform--less than half (47%) of all Americans recognize that the President's plan would give workers a choice between the current program and personal retirement accounts.

Twenty-five percent (25%) of Americans mistakenly believe that the President's plan would require young workers to leave the current Social Security program and set up personal retirement accounts. Another 28% are not sure on this point. In fact, no reform plan requires younger workers to leave the current Social Security program. The President's approach and others would offer workers a choice.

The impact of these misconceptions is enormous. When we initially ask survey respondents about the President's plan for personal retirement accounts, just 38% favor the plan and 46% are opposed. Those results have been mirrored by many other pubic opinion polls.

When we ask about a plan for personal accounts that would give workers a choice and fully protect those over 55, the numbers shift dramatically--51% in favor and just 27% opposed. That represents a net change of 32 percentage points (from minus 8 to plus 24).

This change takes place among all age groups, but is most dramatic among America's senior citizens. Among those over 65, just 23% say they support the President's call for personal retirement accounts and 62% are opposed. However, when asked about the proposal that gives workers a choice and fully protects those over 55, a plurality of seniors (42%) support the plan. Just 31% remain opposed.

Those figures reflect a net change of 50 percentage points among senior citizens (from minus 39 to plus 11). The change is even more dramatic among seniors who initially thought the Bush plan required younger workers to leave the current program.

As for those under 40, they initially favor personal retirement accounts by a 48% to 35% margin. When asked about the plan that includes choice for young workers and protections for retirees, 57% favor the plan and 22% are opposed. That represents a net gain of 22 percentage points (from plus 13 to plus 35).

The same general pattern is found among Americans 40-64. Their initial response is negative (33% favor, 52% oppose) but becomes positive (48% favor, 32% oppose).

Demographic details are available for Premium Members.

Rasmussen Reports is an electronic publishing firm specializing in the collection, publication, and distribution of public opinion polling information. We recently released Social Security: Has the Season for Reform Arrived?

Our publications provide real-time information on consumer confidence, investor confidence, employment data, the political situation, and other topics of value and interest. We provide daily updates on the economic confidence of Consumers and Investors. Our consumer data generally identifies trends two to six weeks ahead of traditional consumer confidence measures.

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This survey of 2,000 Adults was conducted by Rasmussen Reports March 10-13, 2005.  The margin of sampling error is +/- 2 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence.

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