Poll: Bush Ratings Tepid, Expectations Mixed

Another aspect of the administration's plan, partial privatization through a stock-market investment option, gets 55 percent support in this survey, about where it's been (but down from its level before the market bubble burst in 2000 and 2001). An ABC/Post poll last month, however, found this support sharply lower if it means borrowing up to $2 trillion to pay for it.

A plan that combines these two features -- reducing the rate of growth in benefits, and providing a stock-market option for contributions -- wins 54 percent support, with 41 percent opposed. (Twenty percent are "strongly" in favor, 25 percent strongly against.)

Polls describing the change as a cut in benefits, rather than as a cut in the growth of benefits, have found majority opposition. Further testing is needed as the plan becomes clearer, but this suggests that ultimate public perceptions of what's cut -- benefits or their rate of growth -- may well be a decisive factor in its acceptability.

There are other factors as well. Working against Bush is the plurality preference for the Democrats' approach to Social Security, and his 55 percent disapproval rating for handling the issue (matching the worst of his career). So is partisanship -- Republicans are 25 points more apt than Democrats to support his plan, 69 percent to 44 percent.

But working for him is belief the program is in trouble: Six in 10 Americans continue to think there won't be enough money in the system to pay their full benefits. Younger adults are especially likely to think so, and as a result are especially likely to support the changes Bush has proposed. Support for his plan peaks at 71 percent among adults younger than 30; it's just half that, 34 percent, among senior citizens.

IMMIGRATION -- On immigration, the public favors both a carrot and a stick approach that seems similar to Bush's, despite his low (33 percent) approval on the issue. On one hand, 77 percent say the government should do more to keep illegal immigrants out; 57 percent also favor denying them driver's licenses or other official ID, as some Republicans have proposed.

At the same time, 61 percent say illegal immigrants living and working here should be offered a chance to keep their jobs and eventually apply for legal status, rather than being deported. Interestingly this amnesty plan gets more support from Democrats (72 percent) than from Republicans (55 percent), and more from liberals than from conservatives -- surely one of the very few Bush proposals that does better outside his base than within it.

TORT REFORM -- On one further issue, Americans by 2-1 favor limits on class-action lawsuits, as Bush has proposed. Support for a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages in medical liability is lower but still over half (52 percent when the question is made personal; a similar 56 percent if it applies to others).

Nonetheless, 57 percent also say, on principle, that companies should face the possibility of large-penalty lawsuits, both to compensate the injured and to keep hazardous products out of the market. That makes this yet another issue on which careful pathfinding is required if Bush's proposals are to prevail in the second term ahead.

Methodology

This ABC News/Washington Post poll was conducted by telephone Jan. 12-16 among a random national sample of 1,007 adults. The results have a three-point error margin. Sampling, data collection and tabulation by TNS of Horsham, Pa.

Click here for PDF version with full questionnaire and results.

You can find more ABC News polls in our Poll Vault.

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