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: Can Supreme Court be fair in health law case?

WASHINGTON (AP) — Many people in the United States doubt that the Supreme Court can rule fairly in the latest litigation jeopardizing President Barack Obama’s health care law.

The Associated Press-GfK poll finds only 1 person in 10 is highly confident that the justices will rely on objective interpretations of the law rather than their personal opinions. Nearly half, 48 percent, are not confident of the court’s impartiality.

“That lawsuit should have never made it this far,” said Hal Lewis, a retiree from Scranton, Pennsylvania.

“If they rule for the people who are bringing the suit, it could be close to the destruction of Obamacare in this country,” added Lewis, who once edited a local newspaper in his city.

Lewis is one of the relatively few people — 13 percent — who say they are closely following the case, called King v. Burwell.

Opponents of the law argue that as literally written, the law only allows the federal government to subsidize premiums in states that have set up their own insurance markets, also known as exchanges. Most states have not done so, relying instead on the federal HealthCare.gov website.

The Obama administration says opponents are misreading the Affordable Care Act by focusing on just a few words. When the legislation is read in context, it’s clear that lawmakers wanted to help uninsured people in every state, the administration maintains.

If the court sides with the plaintiffs, it’s estimated that 8 million to 9 million people across more than 30 states could lose coverage. They would be unable to afford their premiums without the subsidies, which are keyed to household income. A decision is expected late in June.

In a twist, the poll found that opponents of the law, who tend to be politically conservative, have less confidence in the objectivity of a court with a conservative majority. Among foes, 60 percent are not confident, compared with 44 percent of the law’s supporters.

“That is incredibly powerful that a court associated with conservative views is not well trusted by Republicans,” said Robert Blendon, who tracks public opinion on health care at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Blendon said the law’s opponents may be remembering the court’s 2012 ruling in which Chief Justice John Roberts cast the key vote to uphold the law.

Regardless of how the public feels about the court’s internal deliberations, a majority wants the justices to allow subsidies to continue flowing in all 50 states, an opinion in line with the administration’s position.

Fifty-six percent said the court should keep the subsidies without restriction, while 39 percent said the financial aid should be limited to residents of states that set up their own health insurance markets.

It’s less clear what people would want Congress to do if the court were to side with the law’s opponents. A ruling for the plaintiffs would invalidate health insurance subsidies in states without their own exchanges. Many of those states have Republican governors and legislatures that have resisted the health care law.

The poll found that a bare majority, 51 percent, wants Congress to amend the law to make it clear that people are entitled to help regardless of what their state leaders do.

But 44 percent prefer that Congress leave the law as is and let states decide whether they want to create insurance exchanges that would allow their residents to receive subsidies.

“It suggests there’s a political opening for Republicans to offer a way for people to continue receiving subsidies through some sort of state arrangement,” Blendon said.

State leaders would have to move fast. Some legal experts say it would be only weeks before the subsidies dry up; others say it’s possible the administration could continue payments through the end of this year.

Ethan Levesque of Augusta, Maine, said he is troubled by the federal law’s requirement that virtually all U.S. residents get health insurance or risk fines from the IRS.

“I feel like it should actually be the determination of the states to decide health coverage,” said Levesque, a customer service representative for a telecommunications company.

“There is definitely nothing wrong with health care whatsoever, but it’s the way that this has been presented to people that I have problems with,” he said.

The poll found sharp splits on whether Congress should intervene.

Two-thirds of Democrats think Congress should amend the law to save the subsidies, but only 31 percent of Republicans shared that view. Half of independents want Congress to update the law if necessary, while 41 percent think it should be kept as is.

Leading congressional Republicans have said they would step in to prevent health insurance markets from unraveling, but they have not spelled out details.

It’s estimated that 15 million to 17 million adults have gained coverage since the fall of 2013, when the law’s big insurance expansion began. But the nation is divided over Obama’s major domestic policy achievement.

The poll found 27 percent of Americans support the law, while 38 percent oppose it and 34 percent say they neither support nor oppose it.

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The AP-GfK Poll of 1,077 adults was conducted online April 23-27, 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.

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Online:

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


AP-GfK Poll: Immigration not a deal breaker for Republicans

By EMILY SWANSON  Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans are split down the middle on whether they would prefer to vote for a candidate who wants to keep or undo President Barack Obama’s executive action to let some immigrants living in the U.S. illegally stay in the country, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll.

But even Republicans don’t necessarily see a candidate’s support for that action as a deal breaker for their votes.

The poll was conducted before former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Tuesday that she supports a path to citizenship and that, if elected president, she would expand the protections for immigrants laid out in Obama’s executive action.

Five things to know about public opinion on immigration:

HALF SUPPORT PATH TO CITIZENSHIP, LEGAL STATUS

Most Americans – 53 percent – say they favor providing a way for immigrants who are already in the United States illegally to become U.S. citizens, while 44 percent are opposed.

And although Clinton drew a stark line Tuesday between support for citizenship and support for legal status to stay, the poll shows that distinction makes little difference in people’s support for a change in immigration policy.

Among Americans asked if they favor a way for those already in the United States to stay legally, 50 percent were in favor and 48 percent opposed – not a significant difference from support for a path to citizenship.

DIVISION OVER OBAMA EXECUTIVE ACTION

Forty-nine percent say they’re more likely to support someone who wants to keep Obama’s immigration action in place, while 47 percent would rather vote for someone who wants to undo it, the AP-GfK poll shows.

That’s true even though most Americans support the policies that make up the executive action. Fifty-nine percent favor providing a way for immigrants brought to the United States illegally as children to stay legally, and 57 percent support allowing those who are in the country but whose children are U.S. citizens or permanent residents to stay.

Americans on both sides of the executive action issue are just as likely to say that they could imagine voting for a candidate who disagrees with them as say they could not.

NOT A DEAL BREAKER FOR REPUBLICANS

Even among Republicans, many say they could see themselves voting for a candidate who wants to keep Obama’s action in place.

Three-quarters of Republicans say they would prefer to vote for a candidate who would undo it, but a combined 55 percent would either prefer to support a candidate who would keep it in place or could imagine themselves voting for such a candidate.

Even among conservative Republicans, nearly half – 47 percent – could at least imagine voting for a candidate who would keep the action in place.

Significant minorities of Republicans – about 4 in 10 – support allowing immigrants brought to the United States as children, along with parents of citizens or permanent residents, to stay legally.

LINE IN THE SAND FOR HISPANICS

Three-quarters of Hispanics in the poll say that they would prefer to support a candidate who would keep Obama’s executive action in place, and a majority – 53 percent of Hispanics overall – say they definitely could not support a candidate who wants to undo it.

Eight in 10 Hispanics in the poll favor allowing those brought to the country as children, and those who are parents of citizens or permanent residents, to stay legally.

Hispanics are more likely to trust Democrats than Republicans on handling immigration, 36 percent to 21 percent. But nearly a third don’t trust either party on the issue.

Among all Americans, 30 percent trust Democrats more and 26 percent trust Republicans more, while29 percent trust neither party and 15 percent trust both equally.

MOST DISAPPROVE OF OBAMA’S HANDLING OF IMMIGRATION

Americans are more likely to disapprove than approve of how the president is handling immigration, 57 percent to 42 percent. That’s unchanged since the last AP-GfK poll early in February.

Fifty-seven percent of Americans call immigration a very or extremely important issue to them personally, up slightly since 52 percent in February.

Among Hispanics, 6 in 10 approve of how Obama is handling immigration. In October, before he announced the immigration action, only 3 in 10 did.

The AP-GfK Poll of 1,077 adults was conducted online April 23-27, 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. Some questions were asked of a half sample and have a higher margin of error.

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.

Online:

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

Follow Emily Swanson on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/EL-Swan