NYT/CBS Numbers Show Support for Bush on Social Security

NYT & CBS Numbers Show Support for Bush on Social Security

By Amy Menefee
March 4, 2005

     There are lies, darn lies and polls. Broadcasters are pointing to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll as evidence that Bush has no support for changing Social Security. But the Times own Thursday article reported numbers that look great for Bush. In fact, it looks like his message is getting through.

     On MSNBCs Hardball, Chris Matthews picked up the Social Security baton. He said: New poll numbers show just how little headway the president has made on the issue. According to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll, 69 percent of the people say private accounts are a bad idea when they're told that would mean a reduction in guaranteed benefits. Has Bush lost the battle over public opinion for his Social Security plan? It seems to me these latest numbers are devastating. Almost 70 percent of people say, I want my guaranteed benefit. I don't want this new idea. That number was the starting point for Matthews discussion.

     Dont miss the key qualifying phrase that 69 percent said the accounts were a bad idea when theyre told that would mean a reduction in guaranteed benefits. The Times Thursday story said the same. Those respondents gave the natural answer to a leading question. Pollsters apparently asked them whether they favored private accounts when such accounts were tied to benefit cuts. When the question was put more simply, the Times said about half didnt favor privately investing Social Security tax money. That would supposedly leave half saying they supported private accounts but the Times didnt mention this other half of the population.

     That wasnt the only thing the Times didnt mention. Also getting the gloss-over were several Bush-friendly numbers buried in the last few paragraphs of the story. The poll found a whopping two thirds of respondents recognizing and agreeing that Social Security would be bankrupt by 2042 if left untouched. More than 60 percent also said the next generation will need a different kind of program. The majority even said Social Security should be fixed now, not later. All of this sounds like people echoed exactly what Bush has been telling the nation. Yet these results were headlined New Poll Finds Bush Priorities Are Out of Step: Plan for Social Security Gets Cold Reception. 

     Meanwhile, CBS and NBC cast doubt on Bushs Social Security publicity campaign as he and his team hit the road for a 60-day, 60-city blitz. On NBC Thursday, Brian Williams said the White House shrugged off new polls showing declining support for private accounts while David Gregory reminded viewers of a skeptical public, nervous Republicans and sources who say reform wont pass this year. Dan Rather trumpeted the poll results in Wednesdays broadcast, highlighting the supposed public aversion to private accounts. John Roberts said Bushs plans face long odds. 

     Theres more than one thing wrong with The New York Times story see the MRCs TimesWatch for more.