Friday, October 15, 2004


Pepper survey reveals most think program is doomed


The Social Security system will not fail anytime soon. But people seem to think it will.

That was the message of a survey released Thursday - and the pessimism drew rebukes from a panel of experts.

The U.S. Congressional Budget Office has estimated the Social Security system is solvent for at least another 48 years. Yet the survey found 63 percent of Americans think the system will have insufficient money to pay full benefits within 40 years.

"The media will write 'crisis' every time, and our political leaders will do the same," said former U.S. Rep. Barbara Kennelly. "But we don't do a good job of saying, 'The system is not broke.'"

Kennelly, a former Democratic congresswoman from Connecticut, was one of a dozen political and social-service officials who attended a news conference for the release of the survey commissioned by the Claude Pepper Foundation. The foundation is part of the Pepper Center Institute on Aging and Public Policy at Florida State University. The center honors the late U.S. congressman and U.S. senator from Florida, who was a champion of senior-citizen issues.

The survey was based on interviews with 600 registered voters across the nation. The foundation did an additional survey of 150 registered voters in Florida, though the responses did not vary greatly from those of the national survey.

Among the findings:

• 59 percent of Americans say a presidential candidate's stand on Social Security is important to them, and 20 percent said they would vote against a candidate who disagreed with their position on Social Security.

• 54 percent said they expected to get back less money than they paid in from Social Security when they retire.

• 41 percent support allowing individuals to invest a portion of the money they have paid to Social Security in the stock market.

• 62 percent oppose raising the retirement age from 65 to 70 - a move Pepper fought successfully as the chairman of the U.S. House Aging Committee in 1978.

"Claude Pepper would roll over in his grave if he heard some of the proposals (today)," said Robert Weiner, former staff director of the U.S. House Aging Committee under Pepper. "No one has matched his courage in maintaining Social Security for the nation's senior citizens."

The survey found 71 percent of respondents think the Social Security system needs to be revamped, but they varied on the four most popular proposals: paying Social Security benefits from other government funds (35 percent), increasing the minimum retirement age (23 percent), increasing payroll taxes (19 percent) and decreasing benefits (7 percent).

"There is no silver bullet," said pollster Sergio Bendixen. "Each potential solution has a heavy political price tag attached to it."

Also boxed quote in hard copy:

“The media will write ‘crisis’ every time, and our political leaders will do the same.  But we don’t do a good job of saying, ‘The system is not broke.’

– Barbara Kennelly, former U.S. representative


THE ASSOCIATED PRESS          (TV and print)

(Following AP story ran nationwide in print and on AP Television April 14-15. Initial tracking, now underway, showed newspapers included Miami Herald, San Jose Mercury News, Kansas City Star, The State (SC), Philadelphia Inquirer, Sarasota Herald Tribune, Bradenton Herald, The Ledger (Fl), Nuevo Mondo, and myriad others plus NPR Radio, but AP stories are in hundreds of untracked outlets)

Survey: Social Security important, but won't change many votes

The Associated Press
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Most voters are concerned about the health of the Social Security system, but not so much that it will sway their vote in the presidential election, according to a survey released Thursday.

While 96 percent of respondents said a candidate's position on Social Security is very or somewhat important, only 5 percent said that it is the most important issue in the upcoming election and 74 percent said they could vote for a candidate even if they didn't support his position.

The survey was released the morning after President Bush and Democratic Challenger John Kerry touched on the topic during their last debate before the Nov. 2 election. It was conducted for the Claude Pepper Foundation housed at Florida State University and has a margin of error of 4 percent.

During the debate, Bush said Social Security is a problem for young people and proposed allowing workers to put part of their payroll tax into personal retirement accounts. Kerry called that "an invitation to disaster," citing the Congressional Budget Office's estimate that it would create a $2 trillion hole in Social Security and force a cut in benefits. Kerry said he would protect Social Security by being fiscally responsible.

In the nationwide survey of 600 registered voters of random age and income, 39 percent said they would prefer a Social Security plan like the one outlined by Bush while 29 percent said they would prefer the program to be left pretty much as it is. Another 23 percent said money should be borrowed from the federal treasury to make up for any shortfall.

Overall, more than half the respondents said they expect to get back less than what they put into Social Security and only one in five said they expect Social Security to be their major source of retirement income.

"We agree that people ought to save and have individual accounts but they should all be in addition to social security, not as a replacement for social security or instead of social security," said David Certner, federal affairs director for AARP. "We need to make retirement more secure not more risky."


ADDITIONAL TELEVISION STORIES (TV present included regional CBS, ABC, national AP television, Capitol News Service, Florida State University’s weekly news program; and Pepper Center-commissioned WFSU to tape the proceedings).

ABC TV Channel 27 Tallahassee, Oct. 14 5PM and 11PM news: (DRAFT Summary):

“The results are in and Americans are losing faith in the Social Security system. This from a Claude Pepper Foundation telephone survey released at a social security forum.” (Show Pepper Center, Pepper Foundation Chair Tom Spulak at podium during briefing, Time Magazine cover of Senator Pepper’s photo in the museum, and bar graph of the social security survey as displayed at briefing). “Key findings include one-third have a negative image of social security but a majority says there is need for reform.”

(Interview Barbara Kennelly, D-CT, former Representative): “The fact of the matter is that Social Security has a surplus but young people believe there is not money for them.  It’s an interesting poll because there’s been a lot of false information put out about Social Security. The telephone survey was conducted September 29-October 3.

CBS Channel 6 (Cable 9),  5:35 PM and rerun later:

Claude Pepper Foundation poll: shows “low expectations” for social security. Iinterviewed David Certner, AARP, in hallway – when asked about the voluntarization proposal, stated that voluntarization if done should be “in addition to, not instead of, current benefits.”  Showed Tom Spulak at podium, sweep of panelists including Bill Arnone and Jill Quadagno, and then brief sound bite from pollster Sergio Bendixen hallway interview: “People support reform but when they learn about the cost in benefits they back off.”


Also FYI: from substantive point of view, one indicator of success is that House Ways and Means Social Security staffs –both majority and minority – called when saw the clips and asked for the poll results and reactors’ briefing summaries -- have been provided, and we also referred them to the full results now online.