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

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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-Times Square Poll: Shootings Weighed on Americans in 2015
By Verena Dobnik, Associated Press
Mass shootings and attacks weighed heavily on the minds of Americans in 2015, according to a new poll that found most believe this year was worse for the world than last year.A look at the key findings of The Associated Press-Times Square Alliance poll:

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PREOCCUPIED BY MASS SHOOTINGS

Americans say the most important events of 2015 were a string of mass shootings, including the attacks in San Bernardino, California, and Paris, plus Islamic State group atrocities.

Fifty-seven percent of those polled say this year was worse than the last year for the world as a whole, up from the 38 percent asked that question a year ago. Only 10 percent believe 2015 was a better year than 2014, while 32 percent think there wasn’t much difference.

Americans also are much less likely than they were a year ago to believe that the current year was better for the United States — only 17 percent compared with 30 percent a year ago. Thirty-seven percent think this year was worse for the country than last year, while 44 percent don’t think there was much difference.

On a personal level, fewer than a third (29 percent) believe 2015 was better for them than 2014, while 21 percent feel it was worse, compared with 15 percent in 2014.

Interviewed separately from the poll, Jason Pruitt, a 43-year-old corporate pilot from the Detroit area, said security concerns were a factor in deciding whether to take his wife and daughter along on a Christmas trip to New York.

“We were thinking about not coming this year, because of everything that’s going on,” Pruitt said. But they went ahead “because when you change your life, the terrorists win.”

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THREE EVENTS SHARE THE TOP SPOT

Of those polled, 68 percent listed mass shootings in the U.S. as very or extremely important news events this year, including the one in San Bernardino that heightened fears of domestic terrorism, plus shootings in Charleston, South Carolina; Roseburg, Oregon; and Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Close behind, at 64 percent, were the Paris attacks that ushered in 2015, targeting Charlie Hebdo and the Jewish market, then the Bataclan concert hall and other city sites in November.

And third, at 63 percent, came the Islamic State group’s various far-flung atrocities.

Commenting on the completed poll was 32-year-old J.P. Fury, working in a food truck in Times Square.

“At this point, I’m numb to all of it,” he said. “This is nothing new. Every week there’s a new shooting somewhere in America, and there’s a new terrorist attack somewhere around the world.”

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OTHER ISSUES

Domestically, 44 percent of those polled rate as extremely or very important the deaths of blacks in encounters with police that sparked “Black Lives Matter” protests in Baltimore and Chicago.

Another 44 percent rate the deal reached to curtail Iran’s nuclear program as important, and nearly as many (42 percent) Europe’s migrant crisis.

Only 40 percent said the presidential race was important to them, with the Paris climate change conference right behind (at 38 percent), followed by the Supreme Court’s legalization of gay marriage (36 percent) and the Cuban-U.S. thaw (30 percent).

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RINGING IN THE NEW YEAR

Most Americans plan to celebrate New Year’s Eve either at home (48 percent) or at the home of a friend or family member (20 percent). Nine percent plan to be at a bar, restaurant or organized event, while just under a quarter (22 percent) don’t plan to celebrate at all.

A majority of Americans (56 percent) will watch the New Year’s Eve events in Times Square, and 95 percent of those will see it on TV.

Those findings were similar to those of the past two years.

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THE YEAR IN POP CULTURE

No single pop culture event of 2015 stands out, with fewer than four in 10 Americans rating any as memorable.

The eagerly awaited “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” was memorable only to 37 percent of those polled, and forgettable to 34 percent.

Bill Cosby’s legal woes were memorable to 36 percent; forgettable to 33 percent.

Bruce Jenner becoming Caitlyn Jenner, with a highly orchestrated publicity campaign, was forgettable to 52 percent, and Taylor Swift’s world tour to 55 percent.

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METHODOLOGY

The AP-Times Square Alliance Poll of 1,020 adults was conducted online Dec. 11-13, 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 percentage points.

The poll is a cooperative effort between AP and the organizers of the Times Square New Year’s Eve Celebration, the Times Square Alliance and Countdown Entertainment. The Alliance is a nonprofit group that seeks to promote Times Square, and Countdown Entertainment represents the owners of One Times Square and the New Year’s Eve Ball Drop.

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 access at no cost to them.

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Online:

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


AP-GfK Poll: Support for legal abortion at highest level in 2 years

WASHINGTON (AP) — Support for legal abortion in the U.S. has edged up to its highest level in the past two years, with an Associated Press-GfK poll showing an apparent increase in support among Democrats and Republicans alike over the last year.

Nearly six in 10 Americans — 58 percent — now think abortion should be legal in most or all cases, up from 51 percent who said so at the beginning of the year, according to the AP-GfK survey. It was conducted after three people were killed last month in a shooting at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado.

While support for legal abortion edged up to 40 percent among Republicans in this month’s poll, from 35 percent in January, the survey found that the GOP remains deeply divided on the issue: Seven in 10 conservative Republicans said they want abortion to be illegal in most or all cases; six in 10 moderate and liberal Republicans said the opposite.

 Count 55-year-old Victor Remdt, of Gurnee, Illinois, among the conservatives who think abortion should be illegal in most cases. He’s adopted, and says he “wouldn’t be here talking” if his birth mother had opted for abortion rather than adoption. Remdt, who’s looking for work as a commercial driver, said he’d like to see abortion laws become more restrictive but adds that he’s not a one-issue voter on the matter.
 John Burk, a conservative Republican from Houston, Texas, is among those whose position on abortion is somewhere in the middle. He reasons that banning the procedure would only lead to “back-alley abortions.” But he’s open to restrictions such as parental notification requirements and a ban on late-term abortions.

Burk, a 59-year-old computer programmer, said he tracks his beliefs on the issue to his libertarian leanings and the fact that he’s not religious. He doesn’t see the nation coming to a resolution on the divisive issue any time soon, saying hard-liners on both sides of the question are entrenched and “they’re never going to change.”

Among Democrats, 76 percent of poll respondents now think abortion should be legal all or most of the time, up slightly from 69 percent in January.

Independents are more evenly split, with 54 percent saying abortion should be legal all or most of the time, edging up from 43 percent in January.

For Larry Wiggins, who describes himself as a liberal Democrat from Henderson, North Carolina, legal access to abortion should be — but isn’t — a settled matter.

“A woman has the right to decide what she wants to do with her body,” he said flatly. “I don’t think the government has the right to interfere.”

Nefertiti Durant, a 45-year-old independent voter from Columbia, Maryland, sees abortion as more complex matter, calling it “kind of a Catch-22.” She thinks a woman should have the right to choose abortion but she’s “not so keen on the fact that just anybody can go and have an abortion.” She worries that young people may not understand the effects of the procedure, and the “deep issues” that go along with it.

Still, she said, abortion is legal and “let’s just leave it at that. … I don’t think it’s a matter of discussion.”

It undoubtedly will be up for discussion, though, in a presidential election year. All of the Republican presidential candidates say they favor restricting abortion rights. The Democratic candidates support broad abortion rights.

Interest in the issue picked up this year after anti-abortion activists began releasing undercover videos they said showed Planned Parenthood personnel negotiating the sale of fetal organs. Planned Parenthood said any payments were legally permitted reimbursements for the costs of donating organs to researchers, and it has since stopped accepting even that money. Republicans have sought to cut off federal funding for Planned Parenthood, and several GOP-governed states have tried to block Medicaid funding to the organization.

Overall, the poll found, 45 percent of Americans have a favorable opinion of Planned Parenthood, and 30 percent have an unfavorable opinion. A quarter said they don’t know enough about the organization to say.

The AP-GfK Poll of 1,007 adults was conducted online Dec. 3-7, 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 3.4 percentage points. Respondents were first selected randomly using telephone or mail survey methods, and later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were provided access at no cost to them.

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Online:

http://ap-gfkpoll.com

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