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.

___

AP News Survey Specialist Dennis Junius contributed this report.

___

Online:

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

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

___

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.

Foreign policy no longer a strong point for Obama as troubles pile up across globe, AP-GfK poll shows

By CONNIE CASS and JENNIFER AGIESTA, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Foreign policy used to be a bright spot in Americans’ dimming opinion of President Barack Obama. Not anymore. Associated Press-GfK polling found a spring and summer of discontent with the president’s handling of world events.

Obama’s consistently low marks across crises such as the fighting in Ukraine and the conflict between Israel and Hamas could benefit Republicans aiming to win control Congress in the fall.

“The problem is saying something and not doing anything — making grandiose threats and never following any of them up,” said Dwight Miller, 71, a retiree and volunteer firefighter in Robertson County, Texas. Miller, who describes himself as a libertarian-leaning Republican, says Obama should either stay out of other nations’ business or commit to going “all in.”

In Hawaii, another retiree, Kent Killam, also worries about the U.S. response to cascading troubles in Ukraine, the Middle East and elsewhere. But he blames former President George W. Bush for eroding the nation’s clout abroad and Republican lawmakers for limiting Obama’s ability to act.

“I’m not saying it’s going well at all,” said Killam, 72, a Democratic-leaning independent. “On the other hand, I don’t think he has too many options.”

The foreign conflicts that have consumed so much of Washington’s attention lately aren’t rated as especially pressing by most Americans surveyed for the AP-GfK poll. It’s unclear how their unhappiness with Obama’s performance will affect the midterm elections in November.

Asked about world trouble spots:

—42 percent say the conflict between Israel and Hamas is “very” or “extremely” important to them; 60 percent disapprove of the way Obama has handled it.

 

—40 percent consider the situation in Afghanistan highly important; 60 percent disapprove of Obama’s handling of it.

 

—38 percent give high importance to the conflict in Ukraine; 57 percent disapprove of what Obama has done about that.

 

—38 percent find the situation in Iraq of pressing importance; 57 percent disapprove of Obama’s handling of it.

 

Opinion of Obama’s foreign policy has slid nearly as low as his overall approval rating.

 

Just 43 percent were OK with the president’s handling of foreign relations in the new poll, while 40 percent approved how he’s doing his job overall. AP-GfK polls in March and May show a similar picture.

 

The late-March poll, which came after Russia seized upon an uprising in Ukraine to annex the Crimean Peninsula, marked a significant drop from January’s 49 percent foreign policy rating. In September 2012, shortly before Obama’s re-election, it was 57 percent.

 

Republicans line up more uniformly behind their party on foreign policy than Democrats do.

 

Asked whom they trust more to protect the country, 71 percent of Republicans chose their party. Only 39 percent of Democrats said their party most; about as many Democrats trusted both parties equally.

 

Sixty-three percent of Republicans have more confidence in their party in an international crisis, while 44 percent of Democrats put faith in their party alone. Most Democrats did prefer their party for managing the U.S. image abroad — 51 percent said it would handle that better.

 

About half of independents don’t trust either major party in a world crisis.

 

“I think they’re both a little bit more aggressive than they need to be in using armies instead of going through the U.N.,” said Cameron Wooley, 18, of Orlando, Florida, who’s still deciding whom to support when she votes for the first time this year.

 

“Maybe if we didn’t spend these massive chunks of our budget on the military we wouldn’t have the other concerns we have because of money,” Wooley said. An aspiring opera singer attending the University of North Florida in the fall, she would like to see some of that defense money handed over to the states to spend on things like education and roads.

 

Only about half of those polled see foreign relations as highly important right now, and concern about the United States’ relationship with other countries hasn’t increased despite recent news.

 

Jay Lofstead, a Democrat in Albuquerque, New Mexico, wants to see more involvement in the world’s problems, and he gives Obama a mixed review.

 

“I’d like to see him get more involved on a humanitarian basis in more areas, not military support — no financial support, no weapons — but strictly humanitarian aid,” said Lofstead, 44, a supercomputer researcher at Sandia National Laboratories, who stressed that he speaks only for himself.

 

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted July 24-28, 2014, using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based online panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,044 adults, and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points for all respondents. It is larger for subgroups.

 

Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods, and were 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.

 

___

 

Online:

 

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

 


AP-GfK Poll: Sanctions and Russia

MOSCOW (AP) — U.S. and European sanctions against Russia’s energy and finance sectors are strong enough to cause deep, long-lasting damage within months unless Moscow persuades the West to repeal them by withdrawing support for Ukrainian insurgents.

The U.S. and European Union released details Wednesday of new sanctions aimed at hurting Russia’s economy without doing undue damage to their own trade interests, punishment for alleged Russian support for Ukrainian rebels and Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea.

The sanctions go further than earlier penalties — which had largely targeted individuals — by broadly limiting the trade of weapons and of technology that can be used in the oil and military industries. The EU also put its capital markets off-limits to Russian state-owned banks.

Experts said the sanctions wouldn’t have a tremendous impact in the short term, but if left in place for months will stifle development in the Russian economy and sap its financial sector. Already, economists have revised downward their predictions for Russian growth this year, with some saying the country will go into recession.

The biggest immediate impact is likely to come from the financial sanctions. U.S. officials said roughly 30 percent of Russia’s banking sector assets would now be constrained by sanctions.

In a first sign of concern, Russia’s central bank said Wednesday that it would support banks targeted by the penalties.

“State-owned banks are the core of the Russian banking system,” said Vladimir Tikhomirov, chief economist at financial services group BCS. He noted the banks are already having trouble raising money. “That would mean their ability to lend to other banks, smaller banks, is going to be more restricted also.”

Last year, about a third of the bonds issued by Russia’s majority state-owned banks — 7.5 billion euros ($10 billion) — were placed in EU financial markets, according to EU officials.

The measures against Russian banks, which exempt short-term borrowing, are meant to inflict just enough pain without causing them to collapse.

“The aim is not to destroy these banks,” said a senior EU official, briefing reporters on condition of anonymity prior to the sanctions’ official announcement. “We do not want them to get into a liquidity crisis.”

Russia’s foreign ministry complained vocally about the sanctions, criticizing the U.S. for “advancing baseless claims” about its role in Ukraine in a “pretentious, prosecutorial manner.” It criticized the EU for allowing its policy to be “dictated by Washington.”

The key will be how long the sanctions stay in place.

In the short term, Russia has low public debt and enough money to support its banks. The lenders themselves have large reserves.

In the longer term, the sanctions could hurt by fostering a climate of uncertainty — something investors loathe. Some foreign investors are likely to stay away from the sanctioned companies.

Already, as the Ukraine crisis deepened, Russia’s central bank has been forced to raise interest rates several times to stabilize the currency as foreign investors sold it off; investors are expected to pull more than $100 billion out of Russia this year. The central bank last raised rates on Friday in anticipation of the latest sanctions.

Rising rates hurt the economy by making borrowing more expensive; VTB bank chairman Mikhail Zadornov told the Financial Times that the company’s retail arm cut new loans to small business by 20 percent in the first half of 2014.

Even ordinary Russians were worried.

“I have some concerns for my own savings,” said Indira Minigazimova, a resident of southern Siberia who was visiting Moscow.

It is less clear what the impact may be of another key sanction: the EU’s block on exports of technology that can be used for oil exploration and economic development. Russia relies heavily on Western expertise, for example in drilling for oil in Arctic regions.

This area has significantly more risk to Western companies — particularly BP and ExxonMobil — that have big investments in Russia. The sanctions were not expected to affect current deals and shareholdings, though it was unclear what the long-term repercussions for investments might be.

EU officials noted the prohibition would target just one-tenth of overall energy tech exports to Russia.

The reaction in Moscow’s stock markets was mixed Wednesday, as investors had sold off shares in Russian companies for the past two weeks, since the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over eastern Ukraine. Reports last week that the new, tougher sanctions were due had also caused markets to tumble ahead of their formal announcement Tuesday.

On Wednesday, the MICEX benchmark index rose 0.9 percent, mainly thanks to a rise in the shares of companies that were spared sanctions. Shares in VTB Bank, Russia’s second-largest and one of the sanctions targets, were down 1.3 percent.

EU officials emphasized that while the latest measures last for one year, they can be annulled at any time — intended as an incentive for Russia to dial back its support for the Ukrainian rebels.

So far, the sanctions have had little effect on Russia’s actions in Ukraine. If anything, Russia appears to have stepped up its engagement in the conflict in recent weeks, with the U.S. and its allies saying Russia has built up troops along its border with Ukraine and sent heavy weapons to the separatists.

Russia, meanwhile, slapped a ban Wednesday on fruit and vegetable imports from Poland, a vocal supporter of tougher EU penalties. Moscow said the ban was for violations of health regulations and documentation procedures for some Polish produce; Poland accused Moscow of retaliation.

An Associated Press-GfK poll conducted just before the latest expansion of sanctions found 53 percent of Americans felt the U.S. had not gone far enough in sanctioning Russia, up from 41 percent who felt that way in March. A majority also supported expanding sanctions to target the Russian economy, including its energy sector, according to the survey of 1,044 Americans. The expanded sanctions drew rare cross-party support among the American public, with majorities of both Democrats and Republicans backing the move.

Indeed, President Barack Obama announced more sanctions Tuesday against three major Russian banks, and said he would block future technology sales to the oil industry.

Fewer of those polled felt the U.S. ought to provide military or financial support to countries if they are targeted by Russia.

Despite the sanctions, Obama said the West is not entering a Soviet-era standoff with Russia.

“It’s not a new Cold War,” he said.

___

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

___

Baetz reported from Brussels. Julie Pace in Washington, Geir Moulson in Berlin, Danica Kirka in London and Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow contributed to this report.