Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Know Your Push-Polls

by Tom Bozzo

"Astroturf" senior group USA Next was widely pilloried in the left blogosphere yesterday for its gay-baiting anti-AARP ad. Sam Rosenfeld argues persuasively at Tapped that this is bait for credulous MSM reporters to engage in lazy "he-said, she-said" reporting of USA Next's positions vs. AARP's. Though Ezra Klein argues that it might not matter, since AARP positions are already "balanced" by pro-privatization flacks.

As I noted earlier today, the center-to-left has had the upper hand in the preliminary rounds of the debate, but the other side has just begun to fight. Now's not the time to stop kicking them when they're down. Pre-emptive strikes on USA Next's "substantive" content are thus warranted.

One highlight of its Social Security page is the results of a poll purporting to show broad support for Social Security privatization.

Needless to say, some of the poll's wording is loaded in fairly transparent opinion-forming ways. For instance, in the question:
"Some people say we need to modernize Social Security for future generations. Others say we should leave it alone and allow Congress to raise taxes to raise more money to put into Social Security. Which of these views is closer to your own?"
"Modernize" gets about 55% support overall, and 70% from under-40 respondents. Given the choice between modernity and higher taxes, I'm hardly surprised.

This one is even more transparent push-polling:
"Would you be more likely to support allowing such a personal retirement account choice if it could be shown that it would eliminate the long term deficits of Social Security without raising taxes or cutting benefits?"
It draws a 64.9% "yes" response. However, the question is isomorphic to "Would you be more likely to smoke if it could be shown that there was no causal link between smoking and health concerns?" Sure, I'd love a cigarette with a Martini, just not so much that the marginal benefits outweigh the marginal costs.

In fact, no respectable economist believes that privatization in itself will do anything to address any Social Security funding shortfall. On the contrary, privatization is associated with a transition cost on the order of $15 trillion before any savings kicked in. The $750 billion-ish figure occasionally seen in the press is just a downpayment kept low over the artificial budget planning horizon by the Plan's expected phase-in mechanisms (starting in 2009, gradually ramping up the payroll tax diversion).
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