Oklahoma Citizen Cabinet Offers Recommendations on How to Fix Social Security

April 22, 2015

Voice Of the People’s first survey of its newly established Oklahoma Citizen Cabinet finds large majorities of Republicans and Democrats agree on recommendations that would cover most of the looming Social Security shortfall.

The Oklahoma Citizen Cabinet is an online representative panel of Oklahoma registered voters, scientifically-selected and managed by the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation at the School of Public Policy. It will be consulted on a series of issues facing Congress in the months ahead.

Very large majorities of the Cabinet recommend reducing benefits for the top quarter of earners (81 percent), raising the full retirement age to 68 years old (81 percent), raising the cap on income subject to the payroll tax (90 percent), and raising the payroll tax rate from 6.2 to 6.6 percent (73 percent). Together, these steps would eliminate two-thirds of the Social Security shortfall. Partisan differences are minor, with more than two-thirds of Republicans and Democrats endorsing each of these steps.

“Many characterize Social Security as a ‘third rail’ in American politics, but given the right tools, majorities from both parties agree on how to fix most of the shortfall,” said Steven Kull, VOP president and director of the Program for Public Consultation. “Oklahomans are more united than divided.”

A Citizen Cabinet was also recruited for Oklahoma’s 4th Congressional district, which extends from the edge of Oklahoma City and Norman southward. Its views were found to be nearly identical with the statewide Cabinet except that they went a bit further in recommending reductions in benefits for higher earners and Republicans there were somewhat more ready to recommend raising the payroll tax rate.

Sixty percent recommended a further step of making all income subject to the payroll tax (including 50 percent of Republicans and 67 percent of Democrats). Together with the other steps, this would more than completely eliminate the Social Security shortfall.
Fifty-eight percent also recommended increasing the minimum benefit so that monthly benefit for someone who has worked for 30 years or more would increase from $800 to $1,216, though less than half of Republicans (47 percent) endorsed it. This would increase the shortfall by 7 percent. A more modest 52 percent recommended supplementing the benefits for the very old (Republicans 46 percent), which would increase the shortfall by 5 percent.

Options for changing the way the Cost of Living Adjustments (COLAs) are calculated, such as ‘chained CPI,’ were not recommended by a majority.

The survey was completed by a statewide sample of 506 Oklahoma registered voters, plus additional sample of OK-4 to bring the total to the district to 413. A total of 818 Oklahoma registered voters completed the survey. The margin of error for the state was a plus or minus 4.4 percent and for OK-4, plus or minus 4.8 percent.

The methodology used in Citizen Cabinet surveys goes beyond that of standard polls. The surveys – called ‘policymaking simulations’ – seek to mirror the process that policymakers go through when making a policy decision. Respondents get a briefing on the issues, evaluate competing arguments for and against each of the policy options, and finally come to conclusions in a framework that requires dealing with the types of difficult tradeoffs Congress faces.

Once the Cabinet goes through the policymaking simulation, it is made available online at www.vop.org, so all Oklahomans can go through the same process, learn about the issue, make their own recommendations and send them to their representatives in Congress.

All survey content is vetted in advance with experts from both parties. This survey was developed in close consultation with Republican and Democratic Congressional staff experts on Social Security, as well as various think tanks and advocacy groups with differing views on the issue, who reviewed all the content in advance to ensure that the briefing materials were accurate and that the strongest arguments for and against each option were presented.

Interestingly, when respondents made their recommendations for Social Security reforms most were not simply looking out for their own interests. Large majorities of those with high incomes favored raising the cap on taxable income, though it would increase their own taxes. Likewise, people under the age of 48 overwhelmingly favored raising the retirement age even though they were told only they would be affected.

“It appears that when people deal with these issues they are really thinking about the common good,” Kull said.

This report of the Oklahoma Citizen Cabinet can be found at http://vop.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/CC_SS_OK.pdf
The survey’s questionnaire can be found at http://vop.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/CC_SS_OK_Quaire.pdf
The Social Security policymaking simulation can be found at http://www.surveygizmo.com/s3/2024222/VOP-org-Social-Security-Simulation-PUBLIC-VERSION

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