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 prefer low prices to items ‘Made in the USA’
WASHINGTON (AP) — The vast majority of Americans say they prefer lower prices instead of paying a premium for items labeled “Made in the U.S.A.,” even if it means those cheaper items are made abroad, according to an Associated Press-GfK poll.

While presidential candidates like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are vowing to bring back millions of American jobs lost to China and other foreign competitors, public sentiment reflects core challenges confronting the U.S. economy. Incomes have barely improved, forcing many households to look for the most convenient bargains instead of goods made in America. Employers now seek workers with college degrees, leaving those with only a high school degree who once would have held assembly lines jobs in the lurch. And some Americans who work at companies with clients worldwide see themselves as part of a global market.

Nearly three in four say they would like to buy goods manufactured inside the United States, but those items are often too costly or difficult to find, according to the survey released Thursday. A mere 9 percent say they only buy American.

Asked about a real world example of choosing between $50 pants made in another country or an $85 pair made in the United States — one retailer sells two such pairs made with the same fabric and design — 67 percent say they’d buy the cheaper pair. Only 30 percent would pony up for the more expensive American-made one. People in higher earning households earning more than $100,000 a year are no less likely than lower-income Americans to say they’d go for the lower price.

“Low prices are a positive for US consumers — it stretches budgets and allows people to save for their retirements, if they’re wise, with dollars that would otherwise be spent on day-to-day living,” said Sonya Grob, 57, a middle school secretary from Norman, Oklahoma who described herself as a “liberal Democrat.”

But Trump and Sanders have galvanized many voters by attacking recent trade deals.

From their perspective, layoffs and shuttered factories have erased the benefits to the economy from reduced consumer prices.

“We’re getting ripped off on trade by everyone,” said Trump, the Republican front-runner, at a Monday speech in Albany, New York. “Jobs are going down the drain, folks.”

The real estate mogul and reality television star has threatened to shred the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada. He has also threatened to slap sharp tariffs on China in hopes of erasing the overall $540 billion trade deficit.

Economists doubt that Trump could deliver on his promises to create the first trade surplus since 1975. Many see the backlash against trade as frustration with a broader economy coping with sluggish income gains.

“The reaction to trade is less about trade and more about the decline in people’s ability to achieve the American Dream,” said Caroline Freund, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “It’s a lot easier to blame the foreigner than other forces that are affecting stagnant wage growth like technology.”

But Trump’s message appeals to Merry Post, 58, of Paris, Texas where the empty factories are daily reminders of what was lost. Sixty-eight percent of people with a favorable opinion of Trump said that free trade agreements decreased the number of jobs available to Americans.

“In our area down here in Texas, there used to be sewing factories and a lot of cotton gins,” Post said. “I’ve watched them all shut down as things went to China, Mexico and the Philippines. All my friends had to take early retirements or walk away.”

Sanders, the Vermont senator battling for the Democratic nomination, has pledged to end the exodus of jobs overseas.

“I will stop it by renegotiating all of the trade agreements that we have,” Sanders told the New York Daily News editorial board earlier this month, saying that the wages paid to foreigner workers and environmental standards would be part of any deal he would strike.

Still, voters are divided as to whether free trade agreements hurt job creation and incomes.

Americans are slightly more likely to say free trade agreements are positive for the economy overall than negative, 33 percent to 27 percent. But 37 percent say the deals make no difference. Republicans (35 percent) are more likely than Democrats (22 percent) to say free trade agreements are bad for the economy.

On jobs, 46 percent say the agreements decrease jobs for American workers, while 11 percent say they improve employment opportunities and 40 percent that they make no difference. Pessimism was especially pronounced among the 18 percent of respondents with a family member or friend whose job was offshored. Sixty-four percent of this group said free trade had decreased the availability of jobs.

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The AP-GfK Poll of 1,076 adults was conducted online March 31-April 4, 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 3.3 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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On Twitter follow Emily Swanson at @EL_Swan and Josh Boak at @joshboak


AP-GfK Poll: Public wants Senate action on court, but interest is modest

WASHINGTON (AP) — Nearly 2 in 3 Americans back Democrats’ demands that the Republican-run Senate hold hearings and a vote on President Barack Obama’s pick for the Supreme Court. But an Associated Press-GfK poll also suggests that GOP defiance against considering the nominee may not hurt the party much because, to many people, the election-year fight is simply not a big deal.

Just 1 in 5 in the survey released Wednesday said they’ve been following the battle over Obama’s nomination of federal judge Merrick Garland extremely or very closely.

That included just 26 percent of Democrats and 22 percent of Republicans expressing intense interest, along with a scant 8 percent of independents. That aligns with the political reading of the issue by many Republicans that while it motivates each side’s most committed partisans, people in the middle consider it a yawner — making the fight essentially a wash.

Another clue that voters not dedicated to either party find the court fight tiresome: While just over half of Democrats and Republicans said the issue is extremely or very important, only around a third of independents — and half of Americans overall — said so.

About 8 in 10 said that about the economy and about 7 in 10 took the same stance about health care and the threat posed by the Islamic State group. Immigration and the U.S. role in world affairs both attracted slightly more intensity of interest than the court battle.

“It gets me irritated, the bickering and all that kind of stuff,” Julie Christopher, 49, a Republican and flight attendant from Fort Worth, Texas, said in a follow-up interview, describing her modest attention to the issue.

Christopher said that while she agrees with the GOP’s refusal to hold hearings on Garland, when it comes to backing candidates in November, “That’s not going to be my only thing, like boom, I’m not going to vote for them.”

Hours after Justice Antonin Scalia’s death in February, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said his chamber would not consider an Obama nominee and would instead wait until the president elected this November makes a pick. With the remaining justices split 4-4 between those leaning conservative or liberal, most GOP senators have lined up behind McConnell.

Democrats have been spewing outrage ever since. Along with liberal groups, they’ve been using television ads, news conferences, public demonstrations and Senate speeches to ratchet up pressure on GOP senators, especially those facing re-election this fall in swing and Democratic-leaning states like Illinois, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Democrats’ theory is that the public wants Republicans to end their obstruction and let the Senate do its job, forcing GOP senators to relent on Garland or risk defeat in November. The AP-GfK poll has some data backing that up.

The 64 percent who favor hearings and a vote this year on Garland include an overwhelming proportion of Democrats and a sizable minority of Republicans, 40 percent. Independents, who can be pivotal in closely divided states, back action this year, 52 percent to 36 percent.

“I’d rather see at least deliberations, and see Congress do its job,” said Marc Frigon, 33, a high-tech worker from Beverly, Massachusetts, who leans Republican and wants the Senate to reject Garland’s confirmation. “I feel like that’s why we elected them in the first place.”

Just over half of moderate and liberal Republicans want the Senate to hold hearings this year, while fewer than 3 in 10 GOP conservatives say that.

Overall, people say by 59 percent to 36 percent that they want the Senate to approve Garland should a vote be held. Nearly 9 in 10 Democrats favor confirmation and independents tilt slightly that way, while 69 percent of Republicans favor rejecting him.

In another sign that the public tips toward Obama on the issue, 57 percent approve of the way he’s been handling the Garland nomination. That’s more than the number who gave the president positive reviews on any other issue in the poll: the economy, health care, Islamic State militants, immigration and world affairs.

The AP-GfK Poll of 1,076 adults was conducted online March 31-April 4, 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 3.3 percentage points.

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

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Online:

http://ap-gfkpoll.com