WASHINGTON – President Bush (search) is pushing for dramatic changes to the nation's policy on Social Security (search) at a time the public is grouchy about the nation's direction, skeptical about his proposed solutions and sharply divided along partisan lines, an AP-Ipsos poll found.
"I approve — except that he's not getting anywhere," John Rose, a retiree from Fort Lauderdale, Fla. said of Bush's Social Security proposals. "He should be doing a better job of selling it."
Six in 10 disapprove of the president's handling of Social Security after Bush spent the last two months campaigning across the nation for the changes.
A week ago, the president tried to build some momentum for his proposal by asking future middle- and higher-income retirees to accept smaller benefit checks than they're currently slated to receive as part of a package to keep the system solvent. His proposal would call for benefits for low-income workers to "grow faster than for people who are better off."
The poll found 56 percent of respondents are not willing to give up some promised benefits, while 40 percent say they are. Majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents are opposed to that proposal.
Bush says that younger workers in particular could offset the loss with proceeds from the private investment accounts (search) he wants to establish. Bush has said the current program will not change for workers age 55 and older.
The president is trying to sell these dramatic changes at a time of public anxiety about the nation's direction. Almost six in 10, 59 percent, said the country is headed down the wrong track.
Bush's job approval is at 47 percent with 51 percent disapproving, and his approval on areas like handling Iraq, the economy and assorted domestic issues is in the low 40s.
People are about evenly divided on his handling of foreign policy and terrorism.
"The president's personal style does not suggest they're going to blink because they're hovering around 50 percent job approval," said Bill McInturff, a Republican pollster. "He and his administration appear to feel very comfortable operating at roughly 50 percent approval."
Nine of 10 Republicans approve of Bush's performance, while almost as many Democrats disapprove. Independents were divided.
"On foreign policy, I'm behind him a hundred percent," said Geoffrey Perry, a technician in a power plant who lives in Richmond, Texas. The Republican said Bush's Social Security proposals would be a step in the right direction.
But ask a Democrat like Carol Bambery of St. Paul, Minn., why she disapproves of the president's performance and get an equally strong reaction.
"I probably disapprove across the board," she said. "You could almost name anything — the tax cuts, lack of support for health care coverage, education programs. On Social Security, I don't think what Bush is proposing is feasible. It will just put us in a bigger debt."
Celinda Lake, a Democratic pollster, said persuading the middle class to give up any promised benefits is a hard sell.
"The middle class feels like it's barely holding on," she said. "And Social Security is perceived to be the original middle-class support program."
Those feelings about Social Security can be just as deep and personal among those who support Bush's proposals.
"Social Security raised me from a little boy," said Christopher Haskin, a Republican from Elmdale, Kan., whose father died when he was very young. "If it wouldn't have been for Social Security, we never would have made it."
The AP-Ipsos poll of 1,000 adults was taken May 2-4. It has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.