Byron York distorted poll data to claim support for Bush's private accounts


National Review White House correspondent Byron York took issue with The Washington Post's characterization of findings in an ABC News-Washington Post poll that documented a significant drop in public support for President Bush's plan for Social Security. But in challenging the Post in a March 15 National Review Online column, York misrepresented the poll's data to claim that "solid majorities of those surveyed accept the president's underlying rationale for reform, and support his main proposal for that reform [private investment accounts funded by payroll taxes]."

A March 14 article on the poll, which was released the previous day, reported that "[b]arely a third of the public approves of the way President Bush is dealing with Social Security and a majority says the more they hear about Bush's plan to reform the giant retirement system, the less they like it." When respondents were asked: "Overall, do you support or oppose Bush's proposals on Social Security? Do you support/oppose them strongly or somewhat?" 55 percent disapproved: 35 percent strongly and 20 percent somewhat.

But in his March 15 column, York took issue with the Post's characterization, writing that the poll also showed that a majority supports investing payroll taxes in the stock market, and believes Social Security will face a crisis "down the road." York concluded that, contrary to the Post's claim, these two results indicate that a majority supports the president's efforts on this issue. He wrote:

Yet inside the same Post poll, there is news that 56 percent of those surveyed say they would support "a plan in which people who chose to could invest some of their Social Security contributions in the stock market," which is the centerpiece of the president's still-to-be-unveiled Social Security proposal. Forty-one percent say they would oppose such a plan, while three percent have no opinion.


The Post also found that 71 percent of those polled believe that, if changes are not made, the Social Security system "is heading for a crisis down the road" -- a perception that the president's advisers call a "precondition to authentic reform."

Thus, the poll indicates that solid majorities of those surveyed a) accept the president's underlying rationale for reform, and b) support his main proposal for that reform.

However, the question about private accounts that York quoted does not mention that under the proposal Bush apparently supports, those who opt to divert payroll taxes into private accounts would lose a portion of their guaranteed benefits. Rather, the question simply asked: "Would you support or oppose a plan in which people who chose to could invest some of their Social Security contributions in the stock market?" A Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies/AARP poll, conducted January 15-23, revealed that support for private investment accounts drops considerably when respondents are informed of the proposed benefit cuts that would accompany them. For example, the White House has already stated that under Bush's proposal, for each dollar of payroll taxes that workers choose to divert into private accounts, their guaranteed Social Security benefits would be reduced by the same amount plus three percent real interest. According to the Joint Center poll, 63 percent of respondents opposed private accounts if it meant a "[l]ower guaranteed Social Security benefit in retirement."

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