The Hill Poll: Voters troubled over future of Social Security

A sizable majority of likely voters is worried about Social Security’s future but much more divided over whether the retirement age for the program should be raised, according to a new poll conducted for The Hill.

Seventy-seven percent of likely voters believe Social Security is in trouble, while just 15 percent believe the program is financially sound.

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Still, a plurality – 48 percent – also believed that the Social Security age should not be raised for people born after 1960, who are currently slated to begin receiving full benefits at age 67. Forty percent favored pushing back the retirement age.

Republicans are much more likely than Democrats to support raising the retirement age, the poll found.

Reforms to Social Security and other entitlement programs are being discussed by policymakers struggling to deal with a budget deficit the Congressional Budget Office has estimated will grow to $1.5 trillion this fiscal year. The CBO has also recently reported that Social Security also posted a deficit last year for the first time in years, and CBO has also projected it would do so again this year.

So far, the White House and congressional Republicans have in mostly limited their budget-cutting proposals to non-defense discretionary spending, which accounts for a much smaller piece of the federal budget than entitlement programs.

Even so, Democrats and Republicans on Capitol Hill are engaged in something of a back-and-forth over Social Security, with liberals accusing some GOP lawmakers of wanting to privatize and eventually kill off Social Security.

The Hill poll of 1,000 likely voters, conducted by Pulse Opinion Research, does suggest there is a political divide over Social Security’s future.

While likely voters generally believed Social Security was not on sound footing, no matter what their gender, race or political beliefs, the question of whether to raise the retirement age broke down more along party lines.

Republicans and conservatives were roughly split over whether to increase the age at which someone can receive full benefits, while Democrats and liberals strongly opposed the idea. Moderate voters also were against raising the Social Security age, though not as strongly as those to their political left.

Voters were also split over whether to allow people to invest the Social Security taxes they pay into personal retirement accounts, an idea that was a linchpin of then-President George W. Bush’s plan to reform the program.

Thirty-six percent of likely voters believe diverting payroll taxes to personal accounts should not be permitted at all, while 37 percent backed being able to invest either 25 percent or 50 percent. Sixteen percent supported the ability to invest three-fourths or all of one’s Social Security taxes.

The poll also found that Democrats (58 percent) were nearly three times likelier to favor not allowing any Social Security taxes to be used in individual accounts than Republicans (20 percent). On the flip side, 48 percent of Republicans backed allowing a quarter or half of payroll taxes to go into personal accounts, as opposed to 25 percent of Democrats.

The poll found more consensus about whether to raise the amount of income that can be taxed for Social Security, an idea that has garnered support from President Obama’s bipartisan debt commission and Senate progressives.

Sixty-seven percent of likely voters backed that idea, with only 23 percent against it. Even a majority of those making more than $100,000 – who would be most affected by this plan – supported the move.

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The fiscal commission’s report is becoming a more common topic of discussion on Capitol Hill, with a bipartisan group of senators working to craft legislation based on those recommendations.

In addition to the payroll tax proposal, the debt commission also proposed bumping the retirement age to 69 by around 2075. That idea, however, has been embraced more by Republican lawmakers than Democrats, who say it unfairly penalizes blue-collar workers.

Sens. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who have led the charge that Republicans are looking to privatize Social Security, have noted that the program is on track to pay out all promised benefits for the next quarter-century and declared that Social Security has not contributed to the current budget problems.

“It’s not in crisis,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said recently on NBC’s Meet the Press.

“This is something that’s perpetuated by people who don’t like government. Social Security is fine,” Reid added. “Are there things we can do to improve Social Security? Of course.”

Republicans have indicated that the White House needs to take the lead on entitlement reform and have said the recent CBO findings on Social Security’s deficit illustrate that the program is in trouble.

“We all know that they’re on an unsustainable path, but let me make it very clear: There will be no entitlement reform without presidential leadership,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said recently. “And to the extent that the president is willing to join with us and discuss how we deal with these long-term unfunded liabilities, I think virtually every Republican is ready to have that discussion.”

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