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 not confident in US government’s ability to minimize range of threats

By JILL COLVIN and JENNIFER AGIESTA, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Americans lack confidence in the government’s ability to protect their personal safety and economic security, a sign that their widespread unease about the state of the nation extends far beyond politics, according to the latest Associated Press-GfK poll.

With Election Day about a month away, more than half those in the survey said Washington can do little to effectively lessen threats such as climate change, mass shootings, racial tensions, economic uncertainty and an unstable job market.

“I think what we’ve got going on here in America is the perfect storm of not good things,” said Joe Teasdale, 59, who lives in southwest Wisconsin and works as an assistant engineer at a casino.

For many of those questioned in the poll, conducted before doctors in Texas diagnosed a Liberian man with the Ebola virus, the concern starts with the economy.

The poll found that 9 in 10 of those most likely to vote in the Nov. 4 election call the economy an extremely or very important issue. Teasdale is among those who say the slow recovery from the recession is a top concern.

Despite improvements nationally, business is far from booming in his state, Teasdale said. He’s been supplementing his stagnant salary by renovating and renting out duplexes and has little faith the situation will improve soon. He wants government to get out of the way of business.

“If you’re putting so much restriction on them where it isn’t practical for them to expand or grow, why should they?” Teasdale asked.

Those surveyed also pointed to events such as the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, that followed the fatal police shooting an unarmed black 18-year-old and the beheading of a woman in an Oklahoma food processing plant, apparently at the hand of a suspended co-worker.

“This is the first time I’ve felt insecure in my own country,” said Jan Thomas, 75, of Stevensville, Montana. “Especially after the beheading in Oklahoma. That’s scary.”

The poll found that Democrats tend to express more faith in the government’s ability to protect them than do Republicans. Yet even among Democrats, just 27 percent are confident the government can keep them safe from terrorist attacks. Fewer than 1 in 5 say so on each of the other issues, including climate change.

“There’s too many people who still don’t believe that it’s happening,” bemoaned Felicia Duncan, 53, who lives in Sharonville, Ohio, a suburb of Cincinnati, and works as an office manager at a mechanical contracting company.

Urbanites tend to be more confident the government will keep them safe from terrorist threats than do people living in suburbs and rural areas. Younger Americans are more confident than older people that the government can minimize the threat of mass shootings. When it comes to quelling racial tensions, Hispanics are more confident than are blacks and whites.

Thirteen years after the Sept. 11 attacks, and as the Obama administration conducts airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq, only 1 in 5 in the poll say they are extremely or very confident the government can keep them safe from another terrorist attack. Four in 10 express moderate confidence.

While there has not been a large-scale terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11, roughly one-third of Americans say they are not too confident or not confident at all in the government’s ability to prevent another.

Bill Denison, 85, who lives in Bradenton, Florida, is among the minority who thinks the government is doing a good job keeping citizens safe, at least when it comes to preventing domestic attacks.

“Overall I think that the best job that we’ve done in this country is with anti-terrorism,” he said. “We’re doing a magnificent job and so far it’s been pretty successful.”

Still, he expressed disbelief at the recent security breaches involving Secret Service agents, including an incident in which a man scaled the White House fence and made his way deep into the executive mansion.

“The fact that a guy can run into the White House is pretty disturbing,” he said. “But we’re only human. And humans are going to make mistakes.”

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted September 25-29, 2014, using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,845 adults, and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points for all respondents.

Respondents were selected randomly using telephone or mail survey methods, and later interviewed. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were given free access.

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Associated Press writer Janet McConnaughey in New Orleans contributed to this report.

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Online:

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


AP-GfK Poll: Half think US at high risk of terror attack, yet fewer are closely following airstrikes

By DEB RIECHMANN and JENNIFER AGIESTA, Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — Half of Americans think there’s a high risk of a terrorist attack on U.S. soil, yet only a third are closely following news of U.S. airstrikes against Islamic extremists in the Middle East.

Most people do think the airstrikes are a good idea. Two-thirds of those questioned for an Associated Press-GfK poll say they favor the offensive by the U.S. and allies. And, despite, more than a decade of costly war, about one-third favor going beyond that and putting American military boots on the ground in Iraq or Syria.

President Barack Obama says he has no plans to send ground troops to either country. A little more than a third say they are opposed to the idea, and about one in four say they neither favor nor oppose it.

That’s thousands of miles away. What about concern at home?

According to the poll, most think there’s a high risk of a terrorist attack inside the United States, 53 percent, though just 20 percent call it an “extremely high risk.” An additional 32 percent say the nation is at moderate risk of a terrorist attack and 12 percent say it faces a low risk of terror attacks.

The poll has not asked that specific question in the past. However, the finding tracks with Pew Research Center data from July indicating that concern had ebbed somewhat since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

This summer, the Pew survey said 59 percent of Americans were “very” or “somewhat worried” that there would soon be another terrorist attack in the United States. That’s lower than the 73 percent that Pew found were concerned, following 9/11, that another attack was imminent and about the same as the 58 percent who were worried about another attack after the April 2013 Boston Marathon bombing.

There hasn’t been a massive terrorist attack on U.S. soil since 9/11.

Those in the AP-GfK survey are split on whether they approve of the way Obama is handling the threat from terrorism and specifically the threat posed by the Islamic State group. About half approve and about half disapprove of Obama’s actions to confront the threat. Still, those figures are better than Obama’s approval ratings for handling top domestic issues. Just 40 percent approve of his handling of the economy, 41 percent approve of his work on health care and 34 percent approve of the way he’s handling immigration.

Douglas Dowden, 49, a native of San Diego who now lives in central California, said he thinks the threat from the Islamic State group is overblown. He doesn’t support Obama’s decision to launch airstrikes.

“How many terror threat attacks happen in countries like say Spain, Italy, the U.S.? It’s not that often. I have more fear of what some whack job locally is going to do — that’s more of a concern to me than some potential threat from some extremist group,” Dowden said.

Dowden is among the 37 percent surveyed who said they were following news about the airstrikes “somewhat closely.” About 32 percent of those surveyed are paying close attention to the military action, and 30 percent say they’re barely monitoring the U.S. military action.

“I’m really not following it. There is so much terrible news and I’d rather follow the domestic news than the foreign news — but I still am interested in what’s going on,” said Betty Masket, a 91-year-old retired government health science administrator from Chevy Chase, Maryland. “I really feel sorry for Obama. I think he’s doing the best he can.”

Keith Fehser, 55, a commodities trader from suburban Chicago, says Americans need to see terrorism as an extremely important issue, yet they don’t.

“I just think it’s only going to get worse,” Fehser said. “Even though the government tries its best to keep on top of it, it’s just lunacy out there with what can be done by just small groups of people.”

He said most people he talks with don’t care much about the U.S. airstrikes on Iraq and Syria. “It’s a long way away. As long as we’re not letting our own people get killed, I don’t think they care that much,” he said, adding that he would be “very disgusted” if American combat troops were sent back to the region.

The AP-GfK Poll was conducted Sept. 25-29, 2014, using KnowledgePanel, GfK’s probability-based panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. It involved online interviews with 1,845 adults, and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 2.5 percentage points for all respondents. Respondents were selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods, and later interviewed. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn’t otherwise have access to the Internet were given free access.

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Online:

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