Poll: Americans Favor Privatizing Social Security
Listen to Mara Liasson's report.
Bipartisan Survey Yields Surprising Results
April 1, 2002 -- A poll conducted for NPR shows that a large majority of Americans are worried about whether they will have enough money saved to retire. That's no surprise. What is surprising is that the same poll shows that despite the recent recession, declines in financial markets, and the collapse of Enron, Americans remain open to the idea of investing part of their Social Security taxes in the stock market.
The poll was conducted by Republican Bill McInturff and Democrat Stan Greenberg. Throughout 2002, the bipartisan pair will measure how opinions on issues may affect this year's elections. The first poll is on retirement security, as NPR's Mara Liasson reports for Morning Edition.
The survey shows that Americans are anxious after the Enron debacle, and that 59 percent favor more government oversight of private pensions. Still, more than half the respondents favor some form of privatization of Social Security, a share that shocked both pollsters. Of people younger than 65, 63 percent said they favor allowing people to invest a portion of their Social Security taxes in the stock market. And a majority held to that opinion even when they were reminded of the Enron collapse.
The results run contrary to the conventional wisdom that Social Security is the untouchable "third rail" of American politics.
Below are questions from the survey. Click to see a graphical representation of the results.
How concerned are you about having enough money for retirement? Are you very concerned, somewhat concerned, not too concerned, or not at all concerned about having enough money for retirement?
Let me ask you about the income you think you will have for retirement. How much -- what proportion -- do you think will come from each of the following (Social Security; employer's 401(k) plan)?
Do you or your spouse have any retirement savings such as a pension plan with an employer, or a 401(k), or any tax-deferred account such as an IRA, or don't you have any of these?
Would you support or oppose a plan in which people who choose to could invest some of their Social Security contributions in the stock market?
And talking again about this more specifically -- if you had to choose today, would you have the country stay with the current Social Security system or would you have it switch to a new system where people could invest in the stock and bond market a portion of the amount they now pay in Social Security taxes into their own personal retirement account like an IRA or 401(k) account? (Asked of respondents 65 and over.)
And talking again about this more specifically, if you had a choice today, would you stay with the current Social Security system or would you switch to a new system where you could invest in the stock and bond markets a portion of the amount you now pay in Social Security taxes into your own personal retirement account like an IRA or 401(k) account? (Asked of respondents younger than 65)
Which of the following do you prefer for the country -- keeping the current Social Security system with its guaranteed monthly benefits for seniors OR changing the Social Security system to reduce the guaranteed monthly benefits for new retirees, while allowing people to put a portion of their Social Security savings in the stock market? (65 and older)
Which of the following do you prefer for the country -- keeping the current Social Security system with its guaranteed monthly benefits for seniors OR Changing the Social Security system to reduce the guaranteed monthly benefits for new retirees, while allowing people to put a portion of their Social Security savings in the stock market? (Younger than 65)
Now, as you may know, Enron's bankruptcy wiped out the savings of thousands of Enron employees whose pension funds had been invested in the company's stock. Knowing this, do you agree MORE with the Democrats in Congress who say, "with Enron and so much corporate influence in Washington, this is not the time to turn Social Security over to the stock market. We need changes to improve Social Security, but not ones that reduce the guaranteed monthly benefits for future retirees?
Or do you agree more with Republicans in Congress who say, "what happened at Enron proves people need more choice and to be in control of their own retirement options, including the right to invest a portion of their Social Security taxes into government approved and diversified mutual funds?"
A note on methodology
The complete results (in Powerpoint format)
Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research
Public Opinion Strategies