Perry "Ponzi Scheme" Remark Doesn't Faze Most Republicans

by Lydia Saad

Solid majority believe Social Security should be preserved

PRINCETON, NJ -- Texas Gov. and presidential candidate Rick Perry's comments on Social Security, which include calling it a "Ponzi scheme," appear to be a non-issue for most Republicans. However, they could cost him support with independents should he ultimately win the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. As many Republicans say they are more likely to vote for Perry for president because of his views on Social Security as say they are less likely -- 19% each. Among independents, 12% are more likely to vote for him and 32% less likely.

Effect of Rick Perry's Statements on Social Security on Support for His Candidacy -- September 2011

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These results are from a Sept. 13-14 USA Today/Gallup poll, conducted less than a week after Perry made his comments about Social Security during the Sept. 9 Republican presidential debate -- repeating something that appears in his book "Fed Up," published last year. Perry's chief rival for the Republican presidential nomination, Mitt Romney, has subsequently jumped on the issue as a way to paint Perry as out of touch with mainstream views and unelectable.

In fact, Perry's statements on Social Security are more likely to harm his campaign indirectly by weakening his perceived viability than they are to turn off Republicans who disagree with his views. In contrast to the 19% of Republicans who say they would personally be less likely to support Perry over his Social Security views, 37% believe those views would hurt his chances of being elected president if he were the GOP nominee. Just 17% say they will help his chances.

Independents tilt even more strongly toward perceiving the issue hurts rather than helps Perry's electability, 40% vs. 11%.

Perceived Impact of Rick Perry's Views on Social Security on His Ability to Win Presidency, September 2011

Majority in GOP Wants to Preserve Social Security

The political peril in Perry's suggestion that Social Security isn't working and should possibly be turned over to the states is evident in another question asking Republicans and independents about the extent to which Social Security needs to be reformed. Most Republicans (55%) and independents (53%) take the position that Social Security requires changes but that the primary focus should be on protecting the program. Significantly fewer -- 41% of Republicans and 36% of independents -- believe Social Security in its current form is unsustainable for the long haul and should be fundamentally overhauled.

Views on Social Security Reform, September 2011

Bottom Line

Perry's decision to critique the financing structure of Social Security in stronger terms than are typically heard from most presidential candidates may not be risky within Republican circles. As many Republicans say they are more likely to support Perry as a result as say they are less likely, with most indicating it won't make a difference. However, independents view his comments more negatively and, in line with Romney's argument that this makes Perry unelectable, nearly 4 in 10 Republicans agree it could hurt Perry in a general election.

Tactically speaking, Perry might benefit in the short term by playing to the large minority of Republicans who favor more radical changes to the system. That could help him consolidate conservative support, further squeezing out Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Newt Gingrich, and others. But as the Republican presidential field is winnowed during the primaries -- and particularly if it is reduced to just Perry and Romney -- this controversy could complicate Perry's chance of winning the nomination and, ultimately, the general election.

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Survey Methods

Results for this USA Today/Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Sept. 13-14, 2011, on the Gallup Daily tracking survey with a random sample of 1,414 Republicans and political independents, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

For results based on the total sample of Republicans and independents, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

For results based on the sample of 591 Republicans, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points.

For results based on the total sample of 823 independents, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2010 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

View methodology, full question results, and trend data.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit

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