Rock the Vote: Keeping it Unreal on Social Security
"Get GEAR" blares the ad on RocktheVote.com
. And what's
the latest "gear" available from the self-proclaimed leader of
youth politics? A brand new t-shirt with this less-than-edgy
message: "I [Heart] Social Security."
That's the gist of the activist group's latest PR push: the
ludicrous notion that young people think Social Security needs no
real reform. With this shirt, Rock the Vote has officially "jumped
the shark," forfeiting whatever remaining credibility it had as a
voice of America's youth.
Conventional wisdom holds that, among all age groups, the young
most strongly favor fixing Social
by letting workers invest some of their retirement
taxes in personal investment accounts. This wisdom is conventional
for a good reason: For years on end, poll after poll has found it
to be the case. That's not surprising, though. Younger workers
stand to lose the most under our current Social Security system and
would reap the greatest benefits from the personal accounts
proposed by President Bush and various members of Congress.
But that doesn't suit Hans Riemer. Prior to joining Rock the Vote
as its first-ever political director, he fronted the 2030 Center, a
now defunct advocacy group dedicated to opposing Social Security
Under Riemer's leadership, Rock the Vote earlier this year joined
with AARP to commission a nationwide poll on "Public Attitudes
Towards Social Security and Private Accounts." Far from a
scientific study of popular opinion, this study adopted a
hopelessly flawed methodology. To produce the desired, anti-reform
"conclusion," it deliberately framed questions to elicit a
particular response and then combined dissimilar responses into one
Rock the Vote's press release about this poll trumpets three
conditions under which variously 63, 70, or 65 percent of young
voters would oppose a system of personal accounts. If this were a
legitimate study, it would be remarkable news and could have the
potential to derail the reform effort. But the underlying polling
data belie their spin.
The poll actually found that only 31 percent of younger voters
believe Social Security will "be there" for them when they retire.
Sixty-eight percent of young voters favor investing some of their
payroll taxes in personal retirement accounts.
That's the normal finding. But it doesn't suit Rock the Vote's
agenda. Of necessity, then, the poll zeroed in on those who
actually favor reform and bombarded them with negative information
until they consented to oppose personal accounts.
Young workers with the temerity to "generally favor" reform that
would let them fund personal accounts were presented with various
bad scenarios (for example, "private accounts will create losers as
well as winners, and the losers may need additional help from the
government") and asked if this information would make them rethink
their position. Then they were asked about Bad Scenario B. And so
on, through nine "questions," each presenting a hypothetical
downside to reform. Eventually, most of the poll's respondents gave
in to this persistent badgering and switched their support.
At that point, Rock the Vote and AARP lumped together anyone who
"no longer favored" personal accounts with the group that initially
opposed the reform plan. Voila! They were able to cobble together
(er, find) staggering majorities opposing reform.
Of course, this is bad polling science. But it gave the folks
paying for the poll the results they wanted.
Worse, though, is the fact that Rock the Vote would betray its
professed constituency for the sake of a partisan platform. This
issue, more than any other, has a real generational component. A
youth organization should try to protect the younger generation by
delivering honest information, rather than trading in half-truths
and half-baked slogans like "I [Heart] Social Security."
Anyone who has been paying attention over the last few years should
know that the theoretically non-partisan Rock the Vote does little
more than parrot DNC talking points. During the 2004 election
cycle, the issues featured on RocktheVote.com
(such as bogus claims of plans to reinstate the draft) were all
spun to encourage young voters to reject President Bush.
Of course, legitimate post-election polls found that 45 percent of
voters under 30 pulled the lever for Bush. Could it be that the MTV
demographic turns to sources other than self-anointed "youth
politics" organizations for political guidance?
As a 25-year-old deeply worried about my future if Congress does
NOT fix Social Security via personal retirement accounts, I
seriously doubt Rock the Vote's propaganda on this issue will
convince many of my contemporaries to adopt its position …
much less buy its t-shirt.
Keith Miller, a 2003 graduate of Hillsdale College, is a
researcher at the Heritage Foundation.
Distributer nationally on the Knight-Ridder Tribune wire