Monday, October 18, 2010

The Gallup Social Security and Medicare Poll.

You know what? I'm beginning to think that Gallup may be an advocacy organization rather than a pollster.

Ezra Klein links to a new Gallup poll which asks Americans about their views on the future costs of Social Security and Medicare and what to do should those costs turn out too high. He points out that the Gallup findings, as shown in this table, support the view that raising taxes beats cutting benefits when it comes to the opinions of those polled:

But Gallup's own conclusions are not those of Ezra:


While few Americans name Social Security specifically as one of the most important problems facing the country today, the vast majority of Americans agree that the government's major entitlement programs are likely to cause major economic problems in the next 25 years. Americans' views on the topic are particularly noteworthy in a climate in which there is little consensus about what the government should be fully responsible for -- including providing a minimum living standard for all -- and a high level of concern about government debt.

Americans under 50 are most likely to foresee major economic problems for these programs, but even they do not express a strong mandate to raise taxes or cut benefits as a solution. Nonetheless, the need for action is clear, considering that more nonretirees in 2010 than in 2007 said they expect to rely on Social Security as a major source of income in retirement, and at the same time 60% already do not expect Social Security to be able to pay them a benefit once they retire. Legislators should note that while the issue is a widespread source of concern and draws clear political battle lines, Americans aren't clamoring for the main options on the table.
The bolds are mine, and were added to emphasize those bits which appear to cross the line between trying to influence policy and just gathering data.

But this alone wouldn't have made me write that first paragraph of this post. Note that the above table of results was obtained by asking this question (from "View methodology, full question results, and trend data"):

Now I' like to ask you about the major entitlement programs the government is committed to, including Social Security and Medicare. Do you think the cost of these programs will create major economic problems for the U.S. in the next 25 years if no changes are made to them, or not?
Is this a leading question? I'm not sure, but I can certainly think of better ways to frame it, ways which would not privilege one alternative over the other the way this phrasing does.