WASHINGTON -- In a sign of the intensifying political battle over Social Security, the AARP released a nationwide poll yesterday indicating deep public skepticism about President Bush's plan for personal accounts. The Republican Party immediately criticized the study as flawed.
''Approximately four in 10 respondents initially favored private accounts," the seniors' organization said in a summary of its findings.
''However, those who initially favored private accounts dropped off substantially once they were exposed to any of the consequences associated with implementation of private accounts."
In a two-page rebuttal, the Republican Party said the AARP's survey relied on slanted wording, misleading questions, and an unrepresentative sample of the nation as a whole to come up with its findings. ''Nonetheless, the survey still reveals overwhelming concern about Social Security and support for finding a solution now," the GOP added.
An AARP official, research director Jeff Love, said the poll ''adheres to the highest standards of public polling." The organization opposes Bush's proposal.
AARP said its survey showed the public does not believe that ''private accounts are going to help resolve any shortfalls Social Security might face in the future. Our findings also suggest that when exposed to the possible consequences associated with private accounts, the percentage who initially favor private accounts decreased precipitously. ''
Specifically, it said that 43 percent of those surveyed initially said they ''favored private accounts and 47 percent opposed them." AARP said support dropped when those polled were told that the consequences of the change might include a lower Social Security benefit in retirement, a ban on withdrawals prior to retirement, a requirement for a new government agency to administer the program, and an additional $1 trillion to maintain the benefits for current Social Security recipients.