Monday, March 14, 2005

Social Security Roadshow - The Reviews

From the Washington Post:

Nearly six in 10--58 percent--say they are more inclined to oppose administration's reform plans as they learn more about it. Only a third say they are more receptive to Bush's proposals as more details become available.
Over the past few weeks, when critiquing the response to Bush's Social Security proposal, opponents have tended to say things like, "... the more people learn about the plan, the less they like it." Now, this is no longer a figure of speech. It is the literal truth.

The Post reports that only 35 percent of survey respondents approve of the way Bush is "handling Social Security."

Of course, it is not clear from this story precisely what that means. The story is about data gathered from a Washington Post/ABC News poll conducted March 10 - 13. It contains no details about questions. So, what does it mean to say that only 35 percent of those polled approve of the way Bush is handling Social Security? The answer could depend on how many poll respondents have become convinced that Social Security is in crisis.

Bush's main investment of time and energy has been in convincing the American people that Social Security is facing a solvency crisis that requires drastic and immediate action. The main reason he has been so loathe to talk details is that he knows privatization is a nearly impossible sell unless people believe the system is on the verge of collapse. If he is able to create that perception, then he is willing to let the details sort themselves out. At that point, the people will trust him on the overall need for reform, and that will be enough for him. It is the principle that matters. The principle, for Bush, is the phase-out of a government-funded pension plan in favor of one that relies on market investment returns.

So, do the people who don't like the way Bush is "handling Social Security" not like the fact that he is advocating change? Or, have they accepted the need for change, and are simply taking issue with the available details of his privatization scheme?

The degree to which the fear campaign has been successful is not addressed in this initial story about the poll results, although the "more they know, the less they like it" theme should be very encouraging for opponents of privatization.