When America Speaks, the organization bankrolled by deficit scold Pete Peterson, held its series of meetings last month, the results basically showed that the public favored progressive options to lower the deficit and stabilize the budget. But a couple anomalous results were included in there, allowing America Speaks to say that Americans preferred balanced solutions. A review of the data shows that a technical error led America Speaks to initially promote that a majority of their participants favored raising the Social Security eligibility age, when in actuality a far smaller minority approved of that solution.

The original press release from America Speaks said that the option to raise the age for receiving full Social Security benefits to 69 was “preferred” by participants in the town hall meetings. In particular, America Speaks said that 52% of their attendees endorsed raising the retirement age to 69 in order to close the long-term actuarial imbalance in the program. People voted using keypads to identify their opinions on dozens of options for closing the budget gap.

But their final report, Our Budget Our Economy, you can see that the numbers have shifted. Whereas 52% endorsed the retirement age increase initially, now the numbers on Page 16 show that only 39% endorsed it.

America Speaks has explained this discrepancy by identifying a technical glitch in the software that they used to count up the responses. They claim that on certain questions, participants hit the button multiple times, and that all of them counted, increasing the perceived support. Despite dozens of issues, this affected only a mere five questions, including the increase of the retirement age. And the widest discrepancy came with that question, from a simple majority to a clear minority. This tracks with the independent, nonpartisan, scientific polling on the subject.

It’s interesting that the retirement age increase was the one policy prescription that had inaccurate results. Because that’s precisely the policy that politicians on both sides of the aisle, from John Boehner to Steny Hoyer, have forwarded as a possible solution to Social Security’s “problem.” Whether this was a coincidental mis-tabulation or not, the support in DC for this age increase, which represents a benefit cut of up to 20%, tracks with the supposed “support” at the America Speaks meetings, now seen to be inaccurate.

The shift in the numbers on this issue means that the only solution favored by a majority of participants in America Speaks was an increase in the payroll tax cap to cover 90% of
all earnings. This has been traditionally the major solution that the public supports.

You can see another report from America Speaks on their meetings, called Finding Common Ground 071910, at the link. The group plans to report their findings to the Bowles-Simpson deficit commission. One wonders if the 52% support for the retirement age increase becomes a zombie lie.