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Poll: Support wanes for Bush's Social Security plan


• Bush, McCain promote Social Security plan
George W. Bush
Social Security Administration

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Support for President Bush's proposal to revamp Social Security -- allowing younger workers to invest part of their Social Security taxes in private retirement accounts -- is sliding, according to a poll out Tuesday.

In the CNN/USA Today/Gallup survey of 909 adult Americans taken Friday through Sunday, 40 percent approved of President Bush's approach to Social Security and 53 percent disapproved. The question had a margin of error of plus-or-minus 3 percentage points.

When the polling question did not mention cutting benefits, Bush's proposal drew 45 percent support and 47 percent opposition. It was posed to 466 people, carrying a 4.5 percentage point margin of error.

But when 443 of the 909 polled were asked whether they supported private retirement accounts in exchange for a reduction of guaranteed retirement benefits, support fell to 33 percent, while opposition rose to 59 percent. The question had a margin of error of 4.5 percentage points.

Tuesday's poll is the latest to show falling public support for Bush's Social Security proposal.

In a poll taken February 7-10, 36 percent of those surveyed supported individual accounts even if that meant benefit cuts, while 60 percent opposed them.

In polls conducted February 4-6 and January 7-9, 40 percent supported the plan under those circumstances, while 55 percent opposed it.

Democrats remain nearly unanimous in opposing Bush's plans for Social Security. They say it does not need major revisions in order to continue paying future benefits, and that allowing individual accounts would undermine the 70-year-old cornerstone of the New Deal.

Allies of the president have launched TV ads supporting his ideas and Bush himself is traveling the country drumming up support.

"Let's come to the table. All ideas are on the table. And let's get this problem solved once and for all," he told supporters at a town hall-style rally Tuesday in New Mexico.

Social Security Administration and Congressional Budget Office reports show that Social Security will begin to take in less money than it pays out in 12 to 15 years and will completely drain its trust fund in another four to five decades. At that point -- with no changes -- the system still would be able to pay between 70 percent and 80 percent of its obligations, using taxes being paid in by workers.

Bush has not put forward a detailed plan for his proposed overhaul. But Democrats and some independent observers say diverting a portion of Social Security funds would require the government to borrow nearly $5 trillion over the first 20 years to allow the system to pay current retirees -- and that guaranteed benefits might have to be cut as much as 40 percent under the plan.

Republicans say those figures are misleading and argue that investment gains on private accounts would offset cuts in guaranteed benefits. But the White House concedes that personal accounts alone would not be enough to guarantee the system's solvency.

"It's going to require other matters to fix the system," Bush said. "But it's a way to make the system better for the individual worker."

Most of those questioned told pollsters they understood the debate "somewhat well."

Fifty percent said they understood the debate over Social Security "somewhat well," and 31 percent said they understood it "very well." Only 18 percent said they did not have a good grasp of the matter.

That question had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.

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