New CNN Poll: Social Security needs changes, but it's not a failure
September 13th, 2011
06:00 AM ET
3 years ago

New CNN Poll: Social Security needs changes, but it's not a failure

Tampa, Florida (CNN) - Most Americans believe the Social Security system needs major changes but they disagree with the characterization of Social Security as a lie and a failure, according to a new national survey.

And a CNN/ORC International poll released just a few hours after Texas Gov. Rick Perry and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney clashed over Social Security at the first-ever CNN/Tea Party Republican presidential debate also indicates that Americans are divided more on generational lines than partisan lines when it comes to the longtime government program for retirees.

Full results (pdf)

In the debate, Romney chided Perry for referring to Social Security as a "Ponzi scheme" and vowed to protect the program. Romney called such language "over the top" and said that Perry wrote in his book "Fed Up!" that the entitlement program is unconstitutional.

Perry responded, saying Romney was trying to "scare" seniors who rely on the federal program.

When Romney persisted on the constitutionality question, Perry said the nation needed to have a serious conversation on the issue, which prompted Romney to cut him off by saying "we're having that conversation right now, governor."

The poll indicates that more than seven out of ten Americans disagree with the statement that Social Security is a "monstrous lie" and a failure.

"That's true for Democrats, independents and Republicans," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. "But younger Americans are three times as likely to agree with those statements than older Americans, although a majority of all age groups disagree."

According to the survey, the same is true when Americans are asked about the overall health of Social Security. Only a handful say the system has no serious problems, and roughly a quarter say it has minor problems. Most say the system can be fixed only with major changes, with one in eight favor replacing Social Security with a different system.

"Once again, the principal divisions are based on age, not partisanship, with younger Americans ten times more likely than senior citizens to call for replacing the system," adds Holland.

The poll was conducted for CNN by ORC International September 9-11, with 1,038 adult Americans questioned by telephone. The survey's overall sampling error is plus or minus three percentage points.

CNN Deputy Political Director Paul Steinhauser & CNN Political Reporter Peter Hamby contributed to this report.

– Follow Paul Steinhauser on Twitter: @PsteinhauserCNN

soundoff (35 Responses)
  1. KatR

    In 1935 SCOTUS ruled that the Social Security Act was constitutional citing the power of Congress to 'provide for the general welfare' as well as the phrase 'ensure domestic tranquility' in the preamble. Look it up.

    September 13, 2011 06:09 am at 6:09 am |
  2. Bill

    It is a lie. To think that it will be there in 30 years with these idiots in charge is a flat out lie. They'll be dead and gone but the lie they told you now will be true.

    September 13, 2011 07:57 am at 7:57 am |
  3. Bill

    Its not a failure because the Boomers have been propping it up for 30 years. That's changing...like NOW!

    September 13, 2011 07:58 am at 7:58 am |
  4. jay a.

    Wow! A poll of just 1038 people to really give us an idea of what 300 million people think? Laughable.

    September 13, 2011 08:02 am at 8:02 am |
  5. Liz

    Eventually there will be no money for social security. That's just a fact. Maybe some changes can be made but I'm not counting on it for retirement. Save your pennies folks.

    September 13, 2011 08:13 am at 8:13 am |
  6. Pest

    Those poll results say more about the ignorance of "most Americans" than anything else.

    September 13, 2011 08:16 am at 8:16 am |
  7. James Harrison - Saint Petersburg, FL

    How anyone can call a program that has sustained our senior citizens for the past 70 years a failure is beyond me. Sure, we have allowed our politicians to bleed money out of the program to fund various projects and wars, but the program itself is one of the biggest success stories of the 20th century. Rick Perry changed his tune though. In his book, he called it a "ponzi scheme" but now you hear about his plans for sustaining it into the future. He knows that he has no chance of winning without the support of the senior citizens.

    September 13, 2011 08:17 am at 8:17 am |
  8. bill czecher

    Social Security would not be a failure if politicians did not steal the money and leave us with a bunch of IOU's.

    September 13, 2011 08:17 am at 8:17 am |
  9. Rudy NYC

    The biggest problem with SSI is that the Congress has borrowed from the fund, and simply has not paid it back on time. Period. Republican policies over the past 3 decades have reduced the SSI fund to slush fund. Bush paid for his unfunded adventures, in part, by dipping into the fund. Obama stopped the practice, which immediately added to annual deficit.

    Perry's suggstion to allow the states to administer the program would be a total disaster, which would cause a train wreck so severe that the only way to fix it is to abolish it. States could charge different rates. People can live and work in different states over the course of their lives. Some states could opt out completely from such a program, refuse to help residents work with other states, etc. I am sure that that is Perry's ultimate goal, ending SSI.

    September 13, 2011 08:23 am at 8:23 am |
  10. DD

    Pay back all the funds that have been spent from the SS Fund for other purposes, and you'll suddenly find that it is perfectly healthy. Redeem the IOUs NOW!!

    September 13, 2011 08:24 am at 8:24 am |
  11. John S

    It is not a failure, yet...
    If it continues on its current course, it will fail.

    September 13, 2011 08:25 am at 8:25 am |
  12. Alison Thomas

    I understand that some people lie about SS, I have a rare brain disease; I cannot work b/c I have of the constant migraine which is the side effects of my rare brain disease called Moya Moya who one of my neurologist said I have had since birth. My SS is the only income I get. Also, my father, mother, my grandmother & me.

    I'm just curious how much of my Social Security will be taken out....

    My Regards,
    Alison
    I'm just curious

    September 13, 2011 08:27 am at 8:27 am |
  13. Henry Miller, Libertarian

    "How anyone can call a program that has sustained our senior citizens for the past 70 years a failure is beyond me."

    That's only half of the equation–the other half is: Where's the money going to come from for future retirees? On average, what people pay into SS, including the employer "contribution" and interest, over the course of their working lives is far less than the total of what they receive in benefits, and the country just can't afford to make up the difference. That difference, in aggregate is in the trillions of dollars.

    SS started out as a reasonably sustainable retirement plan, but when politicians got involved and started raising benefits without raising the taxes to pay for those benefits, the system was doomed, especially since the system doesn't take into account that people live longer now than they did 80 years ago, and collect SS longer.

    September 13, 2011 08:28 am at 8:28 am |
  14. John

    No just how so the Repukes think they will win a Presidential election? How? The majority dont want SS to go away and we dont want medicare and medicade to go away! MOST people in this country want a Health Care Plan....not in its current form mind yo but one that will work. Repukes keep attacking Unions, Middle Class, Tecahers, Policeman and Fireman.......just how do you think you will beat Obama with this crap?

    September 13, 2011 08:28 am at 8:28 am |
  15. Mephistopholes

    Finally!!! A candidate with the courage to tell the truth about this awful program. All of those people who look at Social Security and laud it as a wonderful successful program are only looking at it from the perspective of the recipients. I guess I would think Social Security was a great program too if I was receiving free money from the government at the expense of other tax payers.

    But that gravy train is running out of money. When Social Security started there were 30 people working for every 1 recipient. Now there are something like 4 workers for every recipient and soon; with the baby boomers retiring we will be now to 2.5. The only way to keep it going is to either cut back on the benefits paid to all of those recipients are place and even more confiscatory burden on those who are forced (yes forced) to pay into the system.

    I happen to be one of those paying the maximum into the system which means $6K comes from me and $6K comes from my employer and goes into the system to pay for the sloth of others. That is $12K that I could be investing to take care of myself and pay taxes that go towards the General welfare. Not the private needs of seniors that were too short sighted or too profligate to save for their own retirement.

    I don't particularly like Govenor Perry's Fundamentalist Christian Values but I do applaud is Courage and his demand that we stop this sytem of looting the Industrious to pay for the Largess given to the Indolent.

    September 13, 2011 08:28 am at 8:28 am |
  16. LordPet

    Before Social Security, getting old meant moving to an old folks' ghetto and dying in a doorway. Sure it needs to be tweaked to take into account people living longer coupled with less people paying into it, but it remains the greatest program the USA has ever developed. It's old age insurance folks, so unless you think you're not going to get old, you're going to need it to supplement whatever pennies you've managed to squirrel away in this rotten economy.

    September 13, 2011 08:29 am at 8:29 am |
  17. Jeanneboo

    Social Security wouldn't be in trouble if Congress hadn't taken (or in their words borrowed) so much of it and not paid it back.

    September 13, 2011 08:29 am at 8:29 am |
  18. Joe

    "Wow! A poll of just 1038 people to really give us an idea of what 300 million people think? Laughable."

    Speaking of ignorance – might be worth your while to learn something about statistics. Your favorite search engine is a good start.

    September 13, 2011 08:31 am at 8:31 am |
  19. motil

    Duh....seniors are the ones who have contributed into the system. Change it....or let it end....for the younger group who've paid little or nothing. I've been required to contribute for the past 40 years and expect the government to follow up on the promise they made to me. Anyone who wants to cut my social security will NOT get my vote....period.

    But what bothers me most is the very people (our illustrious and no-load politicians) who don't pay into it, and therefore will not receive social security payments, are the ones who are making the rules. What do they care if it goes away? Their only concern is to get re-elected.

    September 13, 2011 08:32 am at 8:32 am |
  20. mary

    When I was in my 20s, "they" predicted that I would never collect it because it would be broke. Now I am 67 and Social Security still exists. Of course there were changes along the way. We should not allow the voices of panic to overcome us.

    September 13, 2011 08:32 am at 8:32 am |
  21. Robert

    Congress need to return all the IOU's to the Social Security Box and lock it, like Gore famously said.

    September 13, 2011 08:35 am at 8:35 am |
  22. Dave

    No- you know what was a failure and a LIE? That merry hunt for WMD's the GWB and GOP assured us were just laying around all over the place in Iraq. Because as everyone knows Iraq was responsible for 9/11 (rolls eyes) according to GWB to this very day.

    September 13, 2011 08:38 am at 8:38 am |
  23. Baby Boomer

    Okay. Let's say iit's a "Ponzi" scheme. Then I want all the money I've paid into it for the past 39 years back. No investing it in the stock market. No diverting money out of the fund for wars, etc. Just give the money back to those of us who have paid into the system all our adult lives. It's either that or make the necessary (minor) changes to it and leave MY Social Security alone...

    September 13, 2011 08:39 am at 8:39 am |
  24. wwf

    Do yourselves a favor and look up to see which President started dipping into SS. You might not like the answer. Also, the reason it is in trouble is because our governemnt has been dipping into it for years and never paid the money back. This administration has nothing to do with the shape it is in now. Get your facts straight.

    September 13, 2011 08:41 am at 8:41 am |
  25. chuck

    This will be the issue that causes the GOP to lose in 2012.

    September 13, 2011 08:41 am at 8:41 am |
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