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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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: Americans want tighter Ebola screening, concerned government hasn’t done enough

By LAURAN NEERGAARD and EMILY SWANSON, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans overwhelmingly want tougher screening for Ebola, according to a poll released as federal health authorities took new steps to do just that.

Many are worried about Ebola spreading here, and two-thirds say the government hasn’t done enough to prevent that from happening, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll.

Some things to know:

THE PUBLIC WANTS MORE TRAVEL SCRUTINY

The AP-GfK poll found 9 out of 10 people — unusually high agreement on any issue — think it’s necessary to tighten screening procedures for people entering the U.S. from the outbreak zone in West Africa, including 69 percent who say it’s definitely needed.

Some would go even further: Almost half say it’s definitely necessary to prevent everyone traveling from places affected by Ebola from entering the U.S. Another 29 percent say it’s probably necessary to do so.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned since summer that an infected traveler eventually would arrive in the U.S., and it finally happened last month when Thomas Eric Duncan developed symptoms of Ebola a few days after arriving from Liberia. He died on Oct. 8.

WHAT IS THE GOVERNMENT DOING

While Duncan wasn’t contagious during his flight, his arrival spurred U.S. officials to begin checking passengers arriving from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea for a fever, an early Ebola symptom, just like they’re checked before leaving those countries.

The AP-GfK poll suggested that wasn’t enough.

Wednesday, the CDC moved to fill a gap in that screening: Starting next week, all of those travelers must be monitored for symptoms for 21 days, the Ebola incubation period. They’ll be told to take their temperature twice a day and must report the readings to state or local health officials.

That’s not just for West African visitors. It includes U.S. government employees, who had been doing their own 21-day fever watches upon return from fighting the epidemic, as well as doctors and other workers for aid organizations, and journalists.

WHY NOT A TRAVEL BAN

The Obama administration says that’s not on the table. Already, there are no direct flights to the U.S. from the outbreak zone, and the airport with the most travelers from West Africa — New York’s Kennedy airport — has averaged 34 travelers a day since entry screening began. Health experts say a travel ban would prevent medical supplies and health workers from reaching West Africa, and could drive travelers underground and hinder screening of potential Ebola carriers.

AMERICANS FEAR EBOLA’S SPREAD HERE

Nearly half of Americans are very or extremely concerned that Ebola will spread widely in the U.S. After all, two nurses caught it while caring for Duncan.

Health experts had hoped that fear would start to dwindle, considering that people who shared an apartment with Duncan while he was sick emerged healthy from quarantine this week — showing the virus isn’t all that easy to catch.

FEAR VS. KNOWLEDGE

But despite months of headlines about Ebola, nearly a quarter of Americans acknowledge they don’t really understand how Ebola spreads. Another 36 percent say they understand it only moderately well.

People who say they do are less concerned about Ebola spreading widely in this country. Among those who feel they have a good grasp on how it spreads, 46 percent are deeply concerned; that rises to 58 percent among those who don’t understand it as well.

Ebola doesn’t spread through the air or by casual contact, and patients aren’t contagious until symptoms begin. Ebola spreads through close contact with a symptomatic person’s bodily fluids, such as blood, vomit, feces, urine, saliva, semen or sweat.

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted Oct. 16-20, using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,608 adults, and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points for all respondents. Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods, and later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were provided with the ability to access the Internet at no cost to them.

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Online:

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


AP-GfK Poll: Voters see GOP win in the offing, but they aren’t too fond of their choices

By JENNIFER AGIESTA and EMILY SWANSON, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Two weeks before Election Day, most of the nation’s likely voters now expect the Republican Party to take control of the U.S. Senate, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll. And by a growing margin, they say that’s the outcome they’d like to see.

But the survey suggests many will cringe when they cast those ballots. Most likely voters have a negative impression of the Republican Party, and 7 in 10 are dissatisfied by its leaders in Congress.

The Democrats win few accolades themselves. Impressions of the party among likely voters have grown more negative in the past month. In fact, Democrats are more trusted than the GOP on just two of nine top issues, the poll showed.

The economy remains the top issue for likely voters — 91 percent call it “extremely” or “very” important. And the GOP has increased its advantage as the party more trusted to handle the issue to a margin of 39 percent to 31 percent.

With control of the Senate at stake, both parties say they are relying on robust voter-turnout operations — and monster campaign spending — to lift their candidates in the final days. But the poll suggests any appeals they’ve made so far haven’t done much to boost turnout among those already registered. The share who report that they are certain to vote in this year’s contests has risen just slightly since September, and interest in news about the campaign has held steady.

Among all adults, 38 percent say they’d like the Democrats to wind up in control of Congress, to 36 percent for the Republicans. But the GOP holds a significant lead among those most likely to cast ballots: 47 percent of these voters favor a Republican controlled-Congress, 39 percent a Democratic one. That’s a shift in the GOP’s favor since an AP-GfK poll in late September, when the two parties ran about evenly among likely voters.

Women have moved in the GOP’s direction since September. In last month’s AP-GfK poll, 47 percent of female likely voters said they favored a Democratic-controlled Congress while 40 percent wanted the Republicans to capture control. In the new poll, the two parties are about even among women, 44 percent prefer the Republicans, 42 percent the Democrats.

In all, the poll finds that 55 percent of likely voters now expect Republicans to win control of the Senate, up from 47 percent last month. Democrats have grown slightly more pessimistic on this count since September, with 25 percent expecting the GOP to take control now compared with 18 percent earlier.

What’s deeply important to likely voters after the economy? About three-quarters say health care, terrorism, the threat posed by the Islamic State group and Ebola.

On foreign affairs, Republicans have the upper hand. By a 22-point margin, voters trust the GOP more to protect the country, and they give the Republicans a 10-point lead as more trusted to handle international crises. Democrats have a slim advantage on health care, 36 percent to 32 percent.

Although handling the Ebola outbreak was among the top issues for likely voters, the poll shows little sign that either party could capitalize on fears of the virus as an election issue. More than half said either that they trust both parties equally (29 percent) or that they don’t trust either party (24 percent) to handle public health issues like Ebola. The remaining respondents were about equally split between trusting Republicans (25 percent) and Democrats (22 percent).

Same-sex marriage? Only 32 percent said that was an extremely or very important issue to them personally, identical to the percentage saying so in September, before the Supreme Court effectively allowed same-sex marriages to proceed in five more states.

The poll, which asked likely voters whom they preferred among the candidates in the congressional district where they live, found Republicans hold an edge in the upcoming elections. Forty percent said they would vote for the GOP candidate in their House district, while 32 percent said the Democrat. About a quarter backed a third-party candidate or were undecided.

Although likely voters appear more apt to take the GOP side in the upcoming elections, the poll finds little difference between those most likely to cast a ballot and others on negative perceptions of the nation’s direction and leadership. Among all adults as well as just the likely voters, 9 in 10 disapprove of Congress, 7 in 10 say the nation is heading in the wrong direction, 6 in 10 disapprove of the way Barack Obama is handling his job as president and 6 in 10 describe the nation’s economy as “poor.”

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted Oct. 16-20 using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,608 adults, and had a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points for all respondents. Among 968 likely voters, the margin of sampling error was plus or minus 3.6 points.

Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods, and later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were provided with the ability to access the Internet at no cost to them.

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Associated Press writer Philip Elliott contributed to this report.

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Follow Jennifer Agiesta on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/JennAgiesta

Follow Emily Swanson on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/el_swan

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Online:

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