Support For Bush On Social Security Plan Dips
President George Bush and the conservative group USANext have gotten some bad news via a new poll that shows support for Social Security reform is dipping while 3/4 polled approve of the AARP.
The A USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll shows that far from making progress on selling the plan, support for the issue is shrinking. And if USANext hopes to soften up support for the AARP it seems it’s risking a backlash with most Americans who give the seniors group a higher approval rating than the President.
Another warning sign: Bush has travelled to 8 states to make his case in the period since the last poll and this one was taken….and the numbers have gone down. Some details:
Only one in three Americans approve of President Bush’s handling of Social Security, his lowest rating on the issue since he took office.
A USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll conducted Friday-Sunday found that 35% approved of Bush’s Social Security record, 56% disapproved and 9% had no opinion. That was down from three weeks ago, when 43% approved. In March 2001, just after he took office, 49% approved.
The poll showed that Democrats have made headway in their opposition to Bush. In early January, Americans divided evenly when asked whether Social Security needs major changes in the next year or two. Now 59% say it doesn’t need to be changed right away.
Americans are more evenly split over which is riskier: relying on Social Security to keep current benefits flowing or investing some payroll taxes in the market. Half said relying on the system’s promises is less risky, while 46% said investing is preferable.
The poll showed higher public approval for AARP, the 35-million-member retiree organization that is leading the opposition to Bush’s plan, than for the president. Bush’s favorable rating was 56%, compared with 75% for AARP. And 47% of Americans said they trust the Democrats more to deal with the issue of Social Security, a 10-point advantage over Republicans.
It’ll be fascinating to see what strategy the White House pursues, especially in Congress. There has been little, if any at all, Democratic support for its plan. Some Republicans remain on the fence or unenthusastic. Going after the AARP is unlikely to budge all of this.
So the question becomes whether between now and mid-term elections there will be some genuine movement on the part of both parties to come up with a compromise on Social Security. Or, will there be no action — leading to the issue emerging as a wedge issue in the mid-terms?
Another question: will the hopeful events in the Middle East shore up Bush’s position and give him increased clout that he can use to push for action on Social Security? Or is this such a fundamental part of many people’s lives now and a quintessential political sacred cow that any efforts to change it will have to be slow and gradual?
UPDATE: The White House is now sending an SOS to GOPers that time is running out to convince the public:
White House officials are telling Republican lawmakers and allies on K Street that they must begin to overcome opposition to President Bush’s proposal for changing Social Security within six weeks, GOP strategists said yesterday.
The GOP strategists stressed that the six-week goal is not a hard deadline for a political breakthrough, but they said the public’s tepid view of Social Security change cannot be allowed to continue indefinitely. The directive raises the possibility that Republicans will have to reconsider whether legislation can be passed this year, as Bush wants.
If it fails to gain traction, it may eventually turn out that the highly publicized assault on the AARP was a huge mistake.
There are AARP members who would have been open to ideas to reform Social Security, presented in good-faith. Remember that many people automatically join once they get the wonderful news via the mail from the AARP that at 55 they are now considered seniors. That news is cushioned by discounts at hotels, etc. But many join the AARP not out of a great desire, but because the cost is low and they can save some money.
The smartest approach is still to come up with a plan to try to peel off wavering Democrats and Republicans using QUALITY, POSITIVE arguments — not vilification of those who don’t agree. Vilification creates backlash and closes — not opens — minds.