Just a month ago, Texas Gov. Rick Perry touched the Third Rail of American politics by calling Social Security a “Ponzi scheme.” There was some real data that showed it hurting him with independent voters and even some Republicans. But on Thursday some data from CNN came out showing Americans going a few different directions on the program: namely, a majority that favored a partial privatization and a fifth that believe the program is actually unconstitutional.
The most traditional number was familiar. Nearly 80 percent of respondents said the program has been good for the country, which held across all parties and ideologies. People still showed concern however: 71 percent of those polled said that the system was either in a state of crisis (22 percent) or had major problems (49 percent), something which all party subgroups agreed on again.
Then results started to get crossed, or at least counter-intuitive.CNN asked if Social Security, a program that’s been in existence for more than 75 years, was constitutional. 21 percent said no. Tea Partiers were the likeliest to feel that way: 37 percent. They were followed by Republicans at 32 percent. Again, Perry had previously criticized Social Security as unconstitutional, but has tempered his speech on the issue since landing the national spotlight. The CNN results seem to suggest that while it’s not a popular argument generally, it does reverberate with a conservative minority, and is perhaps a way to attract a substantial base in a GOP primary.
But even more surprising was a question from CNN about partial privatization of the program. They asked the following:
As you may know, a proposal has been made that would allow workers to invest part of their Social Security taxes in the stock market or in bonds, while the rest of those taxes would remain in the Social Security system. Do you favor or oppose this proposal?
First of all, the question partially suggests the proposal has the best of both worlds. It hints that workers can both invest and receive traditional benefits, although one assumes that respondents know that those traditional benefits would be lessened because half or some of the money is in the market. Even so, the question produced surprising results: a 52 percent majority said they would be comfortable with it, against 46 percent opposed. Independent voters split directly down the middle at 49 – 49, Democrats were against it 44 – 54, and Republicans supported the idea 65 – 32.
The tally is surprising because one of the main storylines of the last three years has been the incredible volatility and slow growth of the markets themselves. Presumably there are number of people who answered yes to the idea of the proposal but who have also seen their 401k balances drop like a rock.
The CNN/ORC poll used 1,010 live telephone interviews with Americans adults conducted from September 23rd to the 25th. It has a sampling error of three percent.