Large Majorities of Republicans and Democrats Agree on Steps to Drastically Reduce Social Security Shortfall

The in-depth survey of a representative sample of more than 2,500 registered voters found that large majorities of Republicans and Democrats favored proposals for increasing revenue (increasing taxes on the wealthy, raising the payroll tax) and trimming benefits (raising the retirement age, trimming benefits for high earners), as well as increasing the minimum monthly benefit for low-income earners.  

Together, these steps would eliminate 95% of the shortfall. The SSA calculates the shortfall based on what is needed to maintain solvency for 75 years.

More modest majorities, with bare majorities of Republicans, favored increasing benefits for those in their 80s  and increasing the cost of living adjustments. With these additional provisions, the amount of the shortfall eliminated would be reduced to 78%. 

The survey was conducted by the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation (PPC). Unlike standard polls, public consultation surveys take respondents through an online process called a ‘policymaking simulation’ that seeks to put them in the shoes of a policymaker.  Respondents were given a briefing on the Social Security program and the projected shortfall, and asked to evaluate arguments for and against proposals addressing the shortfall and increasing some benefits. They were informed about the impact of each proposal on the shortfall. The content of the simulation was reviewed by experts on different sides of the debate to ensure accuracy and balance.

All of the proposals tested have been presented as options by the SSA and scored in terms of their impact on the Social Security shortfall. Most have also been included in proposed Congressional legislation.

Overwhelming majorities of Democrats and Republicans favored two proposals to increase revenues: 

  • Making More Wages Subject to the Payroll Tax: Currently, wages subject to the payroll tax are capped at $147,000. A proposal to additionally make all wages over $400,000 subject to the payroll tax, was favored by an overwhelming 81% (Republicans 79%, Democrats 88%). This would eliminate 61% of the shortfall.  
  • Increasing the Payroll Tax: 73% (Republicans 70%, Democrats 78%) favored increasing the payroll tax from 6.2 to 6.5%, eliminating 16% of the shortfall.  

Two proposals that cut benefits also received support from large majorities of both Republicans and Democrats: 

  • Raising Retirement Age: 75% (Republicans 75%, Democrats 76%) favored gradually raising the retirement age from 67 to 68, eliminating 14% of the shortfall.  
  • Reducing Benefits for High Earners: 81% (Republicans 78%, Democrats 86%) favored reducing benefits to the top 20% of earners, eliminating 11% of the shortfall.  High earners would still get higher benefits than others, but less so.

One benefit increase also got robust bipartisan support:

  • Raising the Minimum Benefit: 64% (Republicans 59%, Democrats 71%) favored increasing the minimum monthly benefit for someone who has worked 30 years from $951 to $1,341, increasing the shortfall by 7%.

Other benefit increases received more modest support: 

  • Increasing Cost of Living Adjustments (COLAs): 55% (Republicans 55%, Democrats 59%) favored changing the way COLAs are calculated by focusing on the goods and services that older adults tend to buy, which would make them higher than the current method. This would increase the shortfall by 12%. 
  • Increasing Benefits for the Very Old: 53% (Republicans 53%, Democrats 56%), favored increasing benefits for those over 80 by about 5%, increasing the shortfall by 5%. 

“Many politicians think that addressing the problems of Social Security is a ‘third rail’ so they have persistently avoided taking action,” commented Steven Kull, director of the PPC. But large bipartisan majorities say they are ready to take tough steps to secure the Social Security program for future generations.”

The survey was conducted online from April 11 – May 15, 2022, with a national probability-based sample of 2,545 registered voters, provided by Nielsen Scarborough’s sample of respondents, who were recruited by mail and telephone using a random sample of households. The margin of error was +/- 1.9.

What are Public Consultation Surveys? Public consultations seek to improve democratic governance by consulting citizens on key public policy issues. Conducted online with representative samples, citizens are taken through a policymaking simulation that puts them in the shoes of a policymaker. They are presented a briefing, evaluate pro and con arguments and then are asked to make their policy recommendations. Policymaking simulations are reviewed for accuracy and balance by experts on different sides of the issue.

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