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: Americans support menu labeling in restaurants, grocery stores

By MARY CLARE JALONICK, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — More than half of Americans say they already have enough information at restaurants to decide whether they are making a healthy purchase. But they want even more.

According to an Associated Press-GfK poll conducted in December, most Americans favor labeling calories on menus in fast food and sit-down restaurants. Most favor labels for prepared foods in the grocery store, too.

The poll was conducted a little more than a week after the Food and Drug Administration announced new rules that will require restaurants and other establishments that sell prepared foods and have 20 or more locations to post the calorie content of food “clearly and conspicuously” on their menus, menu boards and displays. Companies will have until November 2015 to comply.

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MAJORITY SUPPORT MENU LABELING

A majority of Americans — 56 percent — favor requiring fast food restaurants to post calorie amounts on menus, while 54 percent favor the calorie postings at sit-down restaurants and 52 percent favor the labels at prepared food counters at grocery stores.

Slightly fewer approved of requiring the calorie postings in other dining locations. Forty-nine percent of Americans supported posting calories on coffee shop menus and 44 percent approved of the postings on vending machines and at movie theaters. Forty-three percent favored calorie postings in amusement parks. All of those establishments will be required to post calorie amounts under the new FDA rules.

Only about 1 in 10 Americans oppose labeling requirements at each of these places. The remainder said they neither favor nor oppose each requirement.

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WOMEN, DEMOCRATS MOST SUPPORTIVE

Women are more likely than men to say they favor labeling requirements at restaurants and prepared-food counters, though a majority of men support the labeling at fast food restaurants and around half support it at sit-down restaurants. College-educated respondents are more likely than those without a college education to favor labeling requirements at all of the establishments.

The support appears to be relatively bipartisan. Democrats are significantly more likely to support the calorie postings than independents or Republicans, but a slim majority of Republicans still support calorie postings at restaurants.

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PEOPLE CARE ABOUT CALORIES, SUGARS, FATS

The idea behind the rules is that people may pass on that bacon double cheeseburger if they know it has hundreds of calories — and, in turn, restaurants may make their foods healthier to keep calorie counts down. The menus and menu boards will tell diners that a 2,000-calorie diet is used as the basis for daily nutrition, noting that individual calorie needs may vary. Additional nutritional information beyond calories, including sodium, fats, sugar and other items, must be available upon request.

When they’re judging whether a food item is a healthy choice or not, 55 percent of Americans say how many calories it contains is very or extremely important to them. Same with sodium levels.

Sugar and fat were slightly more important to health-conscious diners — 61 percent said sugar was very or extremely important when deciding on healthy purchases and 59 percent said the same about the amount of fat.

Only 36 percent of Americans said they feel the level of vitamins and minerals is extremely or very important when making healthy purchases, and even fewer — 23 percent, less than a quarter — said the same about whether an item is organic. Women and people living in urban areas were most likely to make organic food a priority.

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AMERICANS ARE ALREADY INFORMED

Even though a majority favors more calorie labeling, most Americans say they already have enough information to decide whether they are making healthy purchases at restaurants.

Sixty percent say they now have enough nutrition information at sit-down restaurants and 56 percent say they do at fast food restaurants. That number drops to 48 percent at prepared food counters in grocery stores.

Around a third say they don’t have enough information to decide if they are making a healthy purchase in any of those places.

When it comes to the grocery store, 75 percent of people say they have enough information to make a healthy choice. Unlike restaurants, where nutritional information is often a mystery, nutrition facts panels have been required on packaged foods since the 1990s. The FDA included prepared foods at supermarkets in the menu labeling rules as grocery stores have increasingly sold restaurant-like offerings.

The menu labels were required by Congress as part of health overhaul in 2010. The FDA has said they are just one way to combat obesity, since Americans eat and drink about one-third of their calories away from home.

Michael Taylor, FDA’s deputy commissioner of foods, said the agency knows there is strong interest from the public in the labeling.

“It’s not a magic wand, but it will help people make better choices about their diets,” he said.

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The AP-GfK Poll of 1,010 adults was conducted online Dec. 4-8, 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 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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AP Director of Polling Jennifer Agiesta and News Survey Specialist Emily Swanson contributed to this report.

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Online:

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

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Follow Mary Clare Jalonick on Twitter at http://twitter.com/mcjalonick

 

 


AP-GfK Poll: 5 things to know about the economy

By JENNIFER AGIESTA and EMILY SWANSON

WASHINGTON (AP) – Few issues in a presidential campaign come close to being as meaningful as the economy. The latest Associated Press-GfK poll offers a look at how the public feels about this issue, which touches nearly every aspect of American life. As the 2016 candidates get set to kick off their campaigns, here are five things to know about public opinion on the economy.

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THE ECONOMY ISN’T A MONOLITH

The economy, writ large, has been America’s top policy priority for the entirety of Barack Obama’s presidency, despite the slowly building recovery and the recent skyrocketing stock market. But focusing on this overall concern masks a distinction that matters to many Americans. Though negative perceptions of the economy overall are down compared with four years ago (57 percent describe it as “poor” compared with 83 percent who did in November 2010), Americans’ ratings of their own finances are actually a bit worse than they were back then (38 percent describe their household’s finances as poor, up from 30 percent in 2010). Young Americans, under age 30, have an exceptionally negative take on their finances, with nearly half describing them as poor.

Along the same lines, while a majority of Americans say the stock market and big businesses have mostly recovered from the Great Recession, just 16 percent think small businesses have, 27 percent say the job market where they live is mostly recovered and only 34 percent say their family is largely back to normal.

EDUCATION, LOCATION, INCOME LINKED TO IMPRESSION OF ECONOMY

For some in America, the economy is humming along. Majorities of college graduates, urban residents and people with incomes of $100,000 or more say the economy is in good shape. By contrast, just 28 percent of rural residents, 35 percent without college degrees and 35 percent with incomes under $50,000 say it’s in good shape. Half of those with incomes under $50,000 and 42 percent of rural residents say they and their families haven’t yet recovered from the Great Recession.

Rural residents feel the labor and real estate markets in their area have been particularly hard hit: 45 percent say their local real estate market has only recovered a little or not at all, while 53 percent say the same about their local job market.

EXPECTATIONS ARE SOMEWHAT BETTER

The poll finds an uptick in Americans’ hopes for their own finances and the nation’s finances in the coming year. In the new poll, 34 percent say they expect their household’s financial situation to improve over the next 12 months, better than the 27 percent saying so in October. And 38 percent think the overall economic situation in the country will improve in the coming year, up from 31 percent in October. On both measures, the share saying things would worsen dropped significantly. Still, 48 percent see stagnation ahead for themselves and 42 percent see sluggishness for the economy more broadly.

INCHING TOWARD RECOVERY

That expectation of stagnation may be because that’s what most Americans think the economy is doing now. Asked how the economy had changed in the last month, 60 percent said it stayed about the same. Nearly a quarter think it improved, while 14 percent say it’s gotten worse. Those figures are slightly rosier than in October, when 24 percent said things had worsened. But the majority saying things are staying the same has held over two years of AP-GfK polls, with one exception during the partial government shutdown in October 2013 when the share saying things got worse spiked to 45 percent.

LITTLE FAITH IN WASHINGTON TO IMPROVE THINGS

Who can turn things around? Very few think it’s Washington. Two-thirds of Americans say it’s unlikely that the newly elected Republican majority in Congress will be able to improve the economy in the next two years, and 6 in 10 say Obama won’t be able to either. Three in 10 say they don’t even trust either party to handle the economy.

But Americans don’t completely discount that Washington can help: 52 percent say the government generally did a decent job helping the country recover from the Great Recession. A scant 10 percent, however, say that Washington did a “very good” job lifting the economy out of recession.

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The AP-GfK Poll of 1,010 adults was conducted online Dec. 4-8, 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 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