As noted, the administration also faces a challenge in simply getting the public to share its sense of urgency about Social Security. Bush declared last week, "The crisis is now." In this poll, however, just 25 percent say Social Security is in crisis, actually down from 34 percent in an ABC/Post poll in 1998.
Another 49 percent, though, do say the system has "major problems," adding up to a net negative diagnosis from 74 percent of the public.
Crisis or not, there is broad agreement about a coming shortfall: Americans by 2-1, 63 percent to 32 percent, don't think Social Security will have enough money to pay the full benefits to which they're entitled when they retire. This skepticism, which has fluctuated, has been even higher, 73 percent in the mid-1990s.
Doubts about the system, unsurprisingly, are age-based; young people are vastly less likely than their elders to think Social Security will last long enough to pay their full benefits. Just 7 percent of those under 30 expect their full benefits, compared with 59 percent of those 65 and older.
Expect to Receive Full Benefits
It follows that a voluntary stock market option wins the most support from young adults, at 67 percent, along with nearly six in 10 people age 30 to 49. That falls to 46 percent support among late middle-agers, and drops further, to 30 percent, among seniors.
This support falls sharply across age groups, however, if it means as much as $2 trillion in borrowing, to be paid back in time through cost savings from the current system.
In one conundrum, while young adults are least confident in obtaining full benefits, they're are also much less apt than those age 30 to 64 to say the system is in crisis. That suggests they're making other plans for retirement, hoping for a solution before they get there -- or, most likely, just not yet focusing on their retirement years.
|Think the system is in crisis||19%||34||32||26||15|
|Support stock-market option||67%||60||58||46||30|
|Support stock-market option funded
by $2 trillion in borrowing
|Would invest in stock market option||45%||46||40||33||20|
In addition to being more likely to participate in a stock market option, Republicans (and independents who lean toward the Republican Party) are more apt to support the plan: 71 percent do so, compared with 41 percent of Democrats. Again, though, if it means borrowing $2 trillion, support drops sharply in both groups -- to 39 percent of Republicans and 15 percent of Democrats.
This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone Dec. 16-19 among a random national sample of 1,004 adults. The results have a three-point error margin. Sampling, data collection and tabulation were conducted by TNS of Horsham, Pa.
You can find more ABC News polls in our Poll Vault.