By STEPHEN OHLEMACHER and JENNIFER AGIESTA, Associated Press 

WASHINGTON (AP) — Most Americans say go ahead and raise taxes if it will save Social Security benefits for future generations. And raise the retirement age, if you have to.

Both options are preferable to cutting monthly benefits, even for people who are years away from applying for them.

Those are the findings of a new Associated Press-GfK poll on public attitudes toward the nation’s largest federal program.

Social Security is facing serious long-term financial problems. When given a choice on how to fix them, 53 percent of adults said they would rather raise taxes than cut benefits for future generations, according to the poll. Just 36 percent said they would cut benefits instead.

The results were similar when people were asked whether they would rather raise the retirement age or cut monthly payments for future generations — 53 percent said they would raise the retirement age, while 35 percent said they would cut monthly payments.

“Right now, it seems like we’re taxed so much, but if that would be the only way to go, I guess I’d have to be for it to preserve it,” said Marge Youngs, a 77-year-old widow from Toledo. “It’s extremely important to me. It’s most of my income.”

Social Security is being hit by a wave of millions of retiring baby boomers, leaving relatively fewer workers to pay into the system. The trustees who oversee the massive retirement and disability program say Social Security’s trust funds will run out of money in 2033. At that point, Social Security will only collect enough tax revenue to pay 75 percent of benefits, unless Congress acts.

Lawmakers from both political parties say there is a good chance Congress will address Social Security in the next year or two — if the White House takes the lead. Yet so far, Social Security has not played a big role in the presidential election.

In previous polls, Democrats have typically scored better than Republicans on handling Social Security. But the AP-GfK poll shows Americans are closely divided on which presidential candidate they trust to handle the issue.

Forty-seven percent said they trust President Barack Obama to do a better job on Social Security, and 44 percent said they trust his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney. The difference is within the poll’s margin of sampling error.

Charles McSwain, 69, of Philadelphia, said he trusts Obama because he thinks the president is more likely to stick up for the middle class.

“He at least gives the appearance of trying to help people that aren’t super rich, and Romney doesn’t,” said McSwain, who works part time selling real estate.

But Jeff Victory of Nashville, Tenn., worries that Obama doesn’t have the stomach to cut benefits to help rein in the program.

“Barack has already shown he’s going to give anything free out to everyone he possibly can, so I’m going to have to go with Romney on that one,” said Victory, a 26-year-old electrician.

Romney has said he favors gradually increasing the retirement age, but he opposes tax increases to shore up Social Security. For future generations, Romney would slow the growth of benefits “for those with higher incomes.”

Obama hasn’t laid out a detailed plan for addressing Social Security. But during the 2008 campaign, he called for applying the Social Security payroll tax to wages above $250,000. It is now limited to wages below $110,100, a level that increases with inflation.

Obama says any changes to Social Security should be done “without putting at risk current retirees, the most vulnerable or people with disabilities, without slashing benefits for future generations and without subjecting Americans’ guaranteed retirement income to the whims of the stock market.”

Romney’s running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin, has been a leading proponent in Congress of allowing workers to divert a portion of their Social Security taxes into personal investment accounts. Romney has not fully embraced the idea, but Democrats are using it to accuse Republicans of trying to privatize Social Security.

Romney put Ryan on the ticket Aug. 11. The AP-GfK Poll was conducted Aug. 16-20.

About 56 million people get Social Security benefits. Monthly payments average $1,236 for retirees.

The options for fixing Social Security fall into two broad categories — raising taxes or cutting benefits, or some combination of the two. But there are many options within each category. For example, raising the retirement age is a benefit cut for future generations, because they would have to wait longer to qualify for full benefits.

Retirees now can qualify for full benefits at age 66, a threshold that is rising to 67 for people born in 1960 or later.

In previous polls, most of the options for addressing Social Security scored poorly among the public, which helps explain why Congress hasn’t embraced them. But the AP-GfK poll forced people to make a choice: Raise taxes or cut benefits? Raise the retirement age or cut monthly payments?

Democrats, Republicans and independents all favored raising the retirement age over cutting monthly payments. But there was a big divide on raising taxes. Sixty-five percent of Democrats and 53 percent of independents supported higher taxes, compared with just 38 percent of Republicans.

“Raising taxes, especially on the people that provide the jobs for us, is not an option because what you do there, you discourage promoting jobs,” said James Taylor, a 68-year-old retiree from Golden, Miss.

But Juan Tellez, a 22-year-old college student in Gainesville, Fla., said he would accept higher taxes if it means preserving benefits, even though he’s not very confident Social Security will be around for his generation.

“I think of Social Security as an investment, as a public investment almost, something more communal,” Tellez said. “I feel like I would want to invest in that.”

About three-quarters of the public believe Social Security is an important issue, though there is no consensus about whether people will be able to rely on it throughout their retirement. Only 30 percent said it was very likely or extremely likely they will be able to rely on Social Security.

Among people younger than 35, just 20 percent believe Social Security will provide income throughout their retirement, while 55 percent of people 65 and older said the same.

“I’m not planning on it at all, honestly,” said Victory, the 26-year-old electrician.

The poll involved landline and cellphone interviews with 1,006 adults nationwide. Results for the full sample have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.9 percentage points.

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AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed this report.

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Online:

How would you fix Social Security? http://hosted.ap.org/interactives/2012/social-security/

AP-GfK poll: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com

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Keep up with the AP Social Security series on Twitter: http://apne.ws/NRmPSQ

Follow Stephen Ohlemacher on Twitter: http://twitter.com/stephenatap

Follow Jennifer Agiesta on Twitter: http://twitter.com/jennagiesta

How the poll was conducted

The Associated Press-GfK Poll on Social Security was conducted by GfK Roper Public Affairs & Corporate Communications from August 16-20. It is based on landline and cellphone telephone interviews with a nationally representative random sample of 1,006 adults. Interviews were conducted with 604 respondents on landline telephones and 402 on cellular phones.

Digits in the phone numbers dialed were generated randomly to reach households with unlisted and listed landline and cellphone numbers.

Interviews were conducted in both English and Spanish.

As is done routinely in surveys, results were weighted, or adjusted, to ensure that responses accurately reflect the population’s makeup by factors such as age, sex, education and race. In addition, the weighting took into account patterns of phone use _ landline only, cell only and both types _ by region.

No more than one time in 20 should chance variations in the sample cause the results to vary by more than plus or minus 3.9 percentage points from the answers that would be obtained if all adults in the U.S. were polled.

There are other sources of potential error in polls, including the wording and order of questions.

The questions and results are available at http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com.

AP-GfK Poll: Trump supporters unfazed by reversal on self-funding

By JULIE BYKOWICZ and EMILY SWANSON

WESTFIELD, Ind. (AP) — Donald Trump’s voters adored him for mostly paying his own way in the first half of the presidential campaign. Yet those same people are shrugging their shoulders now that he’s raising money just like the rivals he once disparaged as the “puppets” of big donors.

A new Associated Press-GfK poll found that 63 percent of Trump supporters say they’re at least somewhat more likely to back a self-funded candidate, just as he once was. However, just 13 percent consider it a problem that Trump changed his mind — and nearly all those think it’s only a minor one.

How can people care so strongly about a candidate’s original stance and then not care at all when he changes his mind?

At a Trump rally this week near Indianapolis, some of his most ardent supporters explained their thinking. Many said it wouldn’t be fair for Trump, a billionaire businessman, to have to spend his own money against Hillary Clinton. The presumptive Democratic nominee and her allies aim to raise $1 billion for the general election.

“It was inspiring to see someone spend their own money rather than relying on lobbyists,” said 18-year-old Maxwell Nugent, who will be casting his first presidential vote for Trump this November. “It makes it more profound for him to be asking all the people who supported him to be giving money to the campaign now.”

Nugent, who wore a black T-shirt that reads: “Hillary’s Lies Matter,” said he likes that Trump “started from the bottom, with no donors.”

So far, Trump has put about $50 million of his own money into his campaign, mostly through personal loans which he says he will not seek to recoup. But he assembled a fundraising operation two months ago and has raised more than $51 million for his campaign and Republican Party allies.

Others who attended the Indiana rally said they have some concerns about Trump raising money — but also have faith that he won’t bend his policies to appease donors.

“A big thing with me is that since he is a billionaire, he doesn’t need to be bought,” said Diane Martinez, who lives in Westfield, Indiana, and leads a group called Save Our Veterans that supports Trump.

Trump has lamented the influence that super-donors such as Charles and David Koch and Sheldon Adelson hold over Republican politicians, naming those three specifically.

Yet he’s now developing a relationship with Adelson, a billionaire Las Vegas gaming executive, that could unleash streams of money to help him win the election. The Koch brothers have no plans to back Trump.

Americans have a negative view of the amount of money in politics. An AP-NORC poll conducted in November of 2015 found that 8 in 10 Americans, Republicans and Democrats alike, think campaign contributions influence the decisions that elected officials make.

Trump supporters are among those who see an issue with the way campaign funding works. In the AP-GfK poll, 51 percent of Trump supporters call the way presidential candidates raise money for their campaigns very or extremely important to them, similar to the 46 percent of all Americans who say that.

“We need absolute reform,” said Victor Wakley, another Save Our Veterans member at the Indiana rally for Trump. “I loved that he was paying his own way, and I do have some concerns now that he’s not.”

Democrat Bernie Sanders, who solicited only small donations online and held no traditional fundraisers, made campaign finance reform a pillar of his presidential campaign. Clinton also has promised to press for an end to unlimited money that flows into campaigns through super political action committees, although she is making full use of those groups in her 2016 bid.

Trump has called super PACs “corrupt” but offered no policy proposals about campaign finance. He’s also stopped talking about the corrosive effect of donor money since he began raising it.

In an AP interview this spring, Trump said he is raising money only to help the Republican Party, and he has repeatedly said it would be easier for him to just write a big check to his own campaign. He also stresses that his campaign fundraising is coming from small donors, the way Sanders’ fundraising was.

None of those statements is entirely true.

Trump’s fundraising deal with the party includes a provision that the first $2,700 of any donation go to his campaign. The rest of it — up to about $500,000 per donor — is divided among the national party and some state Republican groups.

Online solicitations accounted for less than half of the money Trump raised in late May and June, and it’s not clear how much of it was from small donors. Fundraising reports to federal regulators are due Wednesday night.

On Trump’s self-funding reversal, 16 percent of all Americans polled by AP-GfK considered it a major problem and 21 percent a minor problem.

Among Clinton supporters, 26 percent say they’re at least somewhat more likely to support a candidate who’s funding his or her own campaign, but more than half say they consider Trump’s reversal to be a problem, including 27 percent who say they think it’s a major problem.

The Trump supporters say it’s no surprise Democrats are trying to emphasize Trump’s switch from self-funding to traditional funding.

“There are a couple of ways to look at it,” said Jerry Loza, a Trump supporter at the Indiana rally. “You could say it’s hypocrisy. You could also say it’s a different game now.”

The AP-GfK Poll of 1,009 adults was conducted online July 7-11, using a sample drawn from GfK’s probability-based KnowledgePanel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.3 percentage points.

Respondents were first selected randomly using telephone or mail survey methods and later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t have access to the Internet were provided access for free.

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Keep track on how much Clinton and Trump are spending on television advertising, and where they’re spending it, via AP’s interactive ad tracker. http://elections.ap.org/content/ad-spending

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Online:

Poll results: http://ap-gfkpoll.com


AP-GfK Poll: Voters split over how to secure US from illegal immigration
By EMILY SWANSON and VIVIAN SALAMA

WASHINGTON (AP) — Most Americans reject Donald Trump’s proposal to build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico and his support for deporting those in the country illegally. But they’re divided on the presumptive Republican nominee’s proposed temporary ban on the entry of Muslims from other countries, a new survey finds.

The poll shows Trump’s shifting rhetoric on that ban might win some Americans over.

When it comes to Trump’s proposal to build a wall along the Mexican border, about 6 in 10 Americans oppose the idea while 4 in 10 are for it, the new Associated Press-GfK poll indicated.

Similarly, 6 in 10 Americans favor providing a way for immigrants who are in the country illegally to become U.S. citizens, while about 4 in 10 are opposed.
Seventy-six percent of Democrats, along with 44 percent of Republicans, favor a path to citizenship for immigrants in the country illegally. Among Trump’s supporters, just 38 percent are in favor of a path to citizenship. Sixty-seven percent of Republicans and just 21 percent of Democrats favor a border wall. Three-quarters of Trump’s supporters favor that proposal.

Trump’s likely rival, Democrat Hillary Clinton, has cast his calls for the border wall and temporary foreign Muslims ban as dangerous.

Trump supporter Marile Womack, 79, of Debary, Florida, adamantly favors the border wall. No one else “had the guts to do it,” she said. But the daughter of Austrian immigrants isn’t opposed to immigration from any country so long as it’s done legally.

“I don’t favor banning immigrants, but I am for investigating them before they come,” she said.

In contrast, Mark Wecker, a car salesman from Redding, California, called a border wall stupid, because “it’s a lot of money and it’s not going to keep them out if they want to get in.”

Three-quarters of Latinos, two-thirds of African-Americans and more than half of whites favor providing a path to citizenship. Forty-eight percent of whites, 26 percent of blacks and just 16 percent of Latinos favor a border wall.

Daniella Gil, a stay-at-home-mom from Cornelius, Oregon, who is the daughter of Mexican immigrants, said, “We should be focusing on the violence coming from Syria as opposed to Hispanics jumping the border.”

She said she supports immigration from any country so long as it’s done legally.

Americans are slightly more likely to oppose than favor a temporary ban on Muslims who are not U.S. citizens from entering the United States, by a 52 percent to 45 percent margin that has been strikingly consistent in AP-GfK polls conducted this year.

Sixty-nine percent of Republicans say they favor the temporary ban on Muslim immigration, while 68 percent of Democrats are opposed. Half of whites and just a third of non-whites say they favor the ban. Seventy-six percent of Trump supporters are in favor.

On a trip to Scotland last month, Trump shifted his rhetoric, saying he would instead “want terrorists out” of the U.S., and to do so, he would limit people’s entry from “specific terrorist countries and we know who those terrorist countries are.”

The poll indicates that rhetorical shift could win support. Among those asked more broadly about a temporary ban on immigrants from areas of the world where there is a history of terrorism against the U.S. or its allies, 63 percent are in favor and 34 percent opposed. Ninety-four percent of Trump supporters say they favor this proposal, as do 45 percent of Clinton supporters.

“That’s a necessity for creating stability,” said Ryan Williams, 40, a health care provider from Jacksonville, North Carolina.

Most Americans — 53 percent — think the United States is currently letting in too many refugees from Syria, engulfed in civil war since 2011 and the Islamic State militant group’s de facto center. President Barack Obama has pledged to admit some 10,000 Syrian refugees this year.

Another 33 percent think the current level is about right, while just 11 percent want to let in more. About 4 in 10 think there’s a very or somewhat high risk of refugees committing acts of religious or political violence in the United States, 34 percent think the risk moderate, and 24 percent consider it very or somewhat low.

Seventy-six percent of Republicans think the U.S. should allow fewer refugees. Among Democrats, 43 percent think the current level is about right, 38 percent think the U.S. should allow fewer, and 18 percent want to allow more.

Said Gil, the stay-at-home mom from Oregon, “Some of those people are innocent kids.”

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The AP-GfK Poll of 1,009 adults was conducted online July 7-11, using a sample drawn from GfK’s probability-based KnowledgePanel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.3 percentage points.

Respondents were first selected randomly using telephone or mail survey methods and later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t have access to the Internet were provided access for free.

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Online:

Poll results: http://ap-gfkpoll.com

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Follow Vivian Salama and Emily Swanson on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/vmsalama and http://twitter.com/EL_Swan