February 23, 2005
By Rea S. Hederman, Jr.
In the political Odd Coupling of 2005, MTV's Rock the Vote has
joined forces with AARP.
Their mission: Block efforts to let young workers invest some of
their Social Security taxes in personal retirement accounts.
"Young and old have united!" trumpets RocktheVote.com. According to
the Web site, they've done so "to make sure you get paid the Social
Security Benefits that you deserve, and to prevent the kinds of
cuts in benefits for young people that have been floated by
advocates of privatization."
Heady stuff, indeed. And the first fruit of this alliance is
suitably audacious: a survey, produced in concert with the Joint
Center for Political and Economic Studies, that takes
"push-polling" to a whole new level.
Push-polling is the intellectually dishonest practice of conducting
a survey in a way designed to produce a pre-determined result. Such
polls follow up a neutrally worded question with more "questions"
that provide new information. The added information presents only
one side of an argument and is designed to "coach" or "push" the
respondent into giving the desired answer.
The AARP/RTV report on "Public Attitudes Toward Social Security
and Private Accounts " is based on a survey of 1,000 adults. It
starts legitimately enough: "How confident are you that Social
Security will be there for you when you retire?"
More than two of every three of the survey's "youth" cohort
(caution: the youngest cohort includes people as old as 39) gave an
undesirable answer. A third were "not too confident." Another 35
percent were "not at all confident" the program would "be there"
The next question produced even more bad news for RTV: More than
two-thirds were either "very" or "somewhat" confident that their
savings and/or investments will generate enough money for their
But the kicker, in RTV's eyes, was worse.
The poll informed respondents: "Some people propose allowing
workers to invest some of their Social Security payroll taxes in
the stock market through individual retirement accounts. For the
average worker, this portion could be up to $1,300 per year that
[he] could invest." Then came the question: "In general, do you
favor or oppose this approach?"
Again, two-thirds of the under-40 crowd got it "wrong." They liked
the approach President Bush advocates - the very approach opposed
by the self-anointed voice of American youth, Rock the Vote.
Of course, such apostasy must not stand. Displaying an arrogance
seldom found outside modeling runways, the AARP/RTV report blithely
dismisses the question (and, thus, the majority view of
respondents) as "simplistic."
Luckily, AARP and RTV had been prescient enough to foresee that the
vast majority of younger workers would support personal accounts.
(It's what legitimate surveys have been finding for years.)
Consequently, the survey itself proceeded to supply the necessary
"nuance" by posing nine follow-up questions for the 198 lost young
souls who dared embrace the concept of personal retirement
accounts. "Would you still favor" reform if it meant:
- creating a new government agency?
- massive new federal debt?
- requiring "additional help from government"?
The barrage of unattractive hypotheticals ran on and on. This isn't
polling. This is a lecture from an overeager high school guidance
counselor. Why not just ask us if we would prefer privatization if
we had to eat cat food in our retirement? If we'd be forced to
listen to Milli Vanilli? If advocates of personal accounts would
come to our houses, kick our dogs and erase our iPods?
Respondents who gave the desired, anti-reform response up-front
were spared the rubber-hose treatment. They received only three
follow-up questions, each of which mentioned an up-side to reform:
having more control over retirement money investment, the
"potential" for more retirement money and the ability to leave any
nest-egg balance to one's children.
Of course, so few of the 18-39 demographic initially opposed
privatization that the polling firm considers the sample size for
the anti-reform group too small to be completely reliable!
Yet, despite these loaded questions, a plurality of the Rock the
Vote cohort still believed that investing in private equities is
good for Social Security. Forty-seven percent of the 18-39 cohort
responded that Social Security would be strengthened with the
ability to invest part of our payroll taxes in the stock market.
And half of the RTV cohort believes that investing in a private
account would make up for benefits cuts. And this is after being
told that private accounts are the financial equivalent of the 10
Notable was the absence of any questions informing these
respondents about bad things that might happen if Congress rejects
efforts to reform Social Security via personal accounts.
Would respondents still oppose reform if they knew the status quo
would force benefit cuts of 27 percent by the year 2042? If they
knew it would mean hiking their retirement taxes by 18 percent? If
they knew it would mean that most young workers will never get as
much out of the system as they pay into it?
Because of its maniacally manipulative methodology, the AARP/RTV
survey can tell us nothing reliable about what Americans think
about Social Security. But it speaks volumes about the sponsors.
Neither AARP nor RTV wants to hear what their constituents think.
Both groups are far more interested in telling their constituents
what they should think - whether they like it or not.
Hederman is a policy analyst at The Heritage
First Appeared on FoxNews.com
In the political Odd Coupling of 2005, MTV's Rock the Vote has joined forces with AARP.
Rea S. Hederman, Jr.
Director, Center for Data Analysis and Lazof Family Fellow
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