TIME Poll: PRESIDENT BUSH’S APPROVAL RATING UP TO 53%, UP FROM 49% IN DECEMBER

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New York – President Bush’s approval rating has risen to 53%, according to the latest TIME poll conducted January 12 and 13. His approval rating is up 4 points from his Dec. 13-14 approval rating of 49%. The President’s approval numbers have improved across a variety of issues, including his handling of the economy (51% approve, up from 40% approve in September), his handling of the situation in Iraq (45% approve, up from 41% approval in September), and his handling of the war on terrorism (56% approve, up from 49% in September).

The President faces an uphill fight as he launches his campaign to overhaul the Social Security System through personal investment accounts, according to the poll. The public is not only divided on his prescription, but also swings very negative at the upfront costs of up to two trillion dollars. When asked if they favor President Bush’s plan to allow people to invest part of their social security payroll tax in stocks and bonds, 47% oppose the plan while 44% support it.

Americans Divided on Urgency of Social Security Overhaul: Americans are evenly divided on Bush’s insistence on the urgency of change. While 45% of those surveyed agree with the President’s assessment that the system will face a crisis unless overhauled immediately, 44% believe that this is just a "scare tactic." Bush said this week that the system will be "flat bust, bankrupt" unless Congress acts now.

Few Confident in Current System: Bolstering the President's stance is that a majority of the workforce, 53%, have little (27%) or no confidence (26%) that the current system will be able to provide full benefits when they retire. Only 15% are "very confident" that the system will be able to pay full benefits when they retire. A majority of non-retirees, 54%, also rate themselves negatively on saving for retirement. This includes 45% of non-retirees ages 55 and over, approaching retirement age.

Price Tag Too High: Even with weak confidence in the system, Americans are sharply divided on the President’s proposed fix. When asked generally about the idea of building personal investment accounts into Social Security, 44% support the concept, but 47% oppose it, even before being informed of the government borrowing required to fund the transition. Support for the plan sinks, 21% favor - 69% oppose, when the poll asked a follow-up question mentioning the need to borrow up to two trillion dollars to finance the plan over the next ten years or so, even though "the money would be paid back later, over time."

Also undercutting support for the Bush plan is that a majority of Americans, 56% to 33%, believe that the return on their money under the current Social Security System would be better than investing in stocks and bonds.

Republicans More Supportive: Republicans are much more supportive of the Bush concept than are others, at least before being told of the borrowing required. About 2 in 3 Republicans (66%) support the concept of personal investment accounts, with 44% of Independents and only 25% of Democrats supporting it. However, even many Republicans (39% favor - 47% oppose) turn negative when told of the price tag.

Inexperienced Investors: Undercutting support for the investment accounts is the relative inexperience of many Americans in investing. Almost half (49%) have little or no experience investing in stocks and bonds. Only 8% have a great deal of experience, with 42% having some experience.

Widespread Support for Other Solutions: The TIME Poll finds widespread support for some more limited measures to patch the system:

-- 73% favor allowing Americans to invest more in tax-deferred retirement accounts outside of the Social Security System.

-- 69% favor incentives for people to continue working beyond normal retirement age.

-- 58% favor reducing Social Security benefits for wealthier people.

-- 48% favor raising the current payroll cap on Social Security beyond the current limit.

-- Fewer Americans favor raising the payroll tax now to provide future benefits (41%) or raising the age when future generations can retire with full benefits (38%)

Accounts More Popular with Younger and Affluent: The Bush plan concept is more popular with younger people than with those who are older or retired. About 1 in 2 younger Americans (50%), ages 18 - 34, support the Bush concept before being told of the needed borrowing, compared to only 30% of those ages 55 and over. However, large majorities of all age groups would reject the plan if it required heavy government debt.

The personal investment account concept garners the most support from those with $100,000 or more in household income. About 3 in 5 (61%) favor the concept of Social Security personal investment accounts compared to about one-third (35%) of those with income below $35,000. Again, support among all income groups sinks when informed of the transitional price tag.

Six-figure income households are also much more likely to believe it is better in the long run to invest part of their social security payroll tax (57%) in stocks and bonds than those with less than $100,000 in household income (32%).

Methodology: This TIME Poll was conducted by telephone January 12-13, 2005 among a random sample of 1,002 adults, age 18 and older throughout America. The margin of error for the entire sample is approximately +/-3 percentage points. The margin of error is higher for subgroups. Surveys are subject to other error sources as well, including sampling coverage error, recording error, and respondent error. Schulman, Ronca, & Bucuvalas (SRBI) Public Affairs designed the survey and conducted all interviewing. The full TIME questionnaire and trend data may be found at: www.srbi.com.

Contact: Ty Trippet, 212-522-3640, Kim Noel, 212-522-3651