Every few months there’s a new mainstream media poll showing the American people believe Social Security is in “crisis”.  The latest comes today from ABC/Washington Post.  However, what’s different about this poll is that, even though most commentary today follows the tried and true “Social Security is in crisis” meme, this poll actually asks about the future – not the present.  That is a small difference with a big impact. Here’s the poll’s actual question:
Now, thinking about the Social Security system that mainly provides retirement income for senior citizens: If changes are not made, do you think the Social Security system is heading for a crisis down the road, or not? Yes   No 3/13/11*      81   15 3/13/05        71    23
So, while the use of the word crisis is ridiculous, given that what we’re actually talking about is a shortfall in the year 2037, the heart of this question shows that people understand we need to address Social Security “down the road.”  In fact, only 1% of those polled believed Social Security is in crisis now.  That’s not a great return on investment for those who’ve spent decades trying to persuade Americans that Social Security won’t even exist in (you fill in the blank) number of years, and the$1billion dollar nationwide crisis campaign launched by Wall Streeter, Pete Peterson. But of course, it’s  81%...Social Security…Crisis which fill the headlines today while the real news is buried or completely ignored.   This poll shows (once again) that Americans continue to support raising or eliminating the payroll tax cap above any other of the reforms touted by fiscal hawks who prefer benefit cuts above all else.  However, rather than highlight this Washington disconnect, the Washington Post celebrates the fact that the numbers of people willing to accept benefit cuts (which is still less than a majority and less than those who oppose benefit cuts) has grown. Why wouldn’t Americans, who’ve been served a steady diet of fear mongering and chicken-little crisis calls about Social Security for their entire lifetime, and who are now being told by fiscal hawks in Washington “cut it or lose it”, choose to cut it rather than lose it?  The American people understand the vital role Social Security plays in their families’ lives; they would do anything to preserve the program. So we say -- don’t be fooled by  a false choice provided by people whose true goal isn’t to provide long-term solvency for Social Security but rather cutting benefits to avoid having to pay what’s owed to American workers. As Mark Miller at Reuters correctly points out:
Republicans repeat the big lies about Social Security so often that people start to believe them; then, politicians point to the predictable poll results to justify the policies they want to pursue.
What polls like this one actually prove is that propaganda works.  Don't forget, there was also a time when most Americans believed there were WMD’s in Iraq and look how that turned out. So while millions of dollars are now being spent to fuel this Social Security spin cycle in Washington – it’s really up to all of us to ensure America’s middle class doesn’t get hung out to dry.