Posted by: JanF | August 26, 2010

Things You Don’t Know

Today’s post involves a handful of polls and some pesky little facts.

I stumbled upon an interesting article called Dumb Things That Americans Believe. The article was inspired by the recent survey which found that 18% of Americans wrongly believe that President Obama is Muslim. This will come as a huge shock but the number climbs to 31% when only Republicans are polled. A bit of a right-wing echo chamber, perhaps?

Here are some other things Americans believe:
1. Death Panels. The Kaiser Family Foundation found that four in 10 Americans believe that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act creates a panel that makes decisions about end-of-life care for Medicare patients. It doesn’t.

2. Iraq and 9/11. A June 2007 poll showed that a startling 41% still believed that Saddam Hussein was directly involved masterminding and funding the 9/11 attack. In that same survey, only 43% knew that most of the hijackers came from Saudi Arabia…20% wrongly selected Iraq. In 2006, 3 years into the Iraq war, in a different poll, half of Americans still believed that Saddam had Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) despite ample evidence to the contrary.

3. Sun revolves around the earth. Copernicus would be rolling over in his grave to find that 20 percent of Americans are certain that the sun revolves around the Earth. The Gallup Poll article uses this headline “Four out of Five Americans Know Earth Revolves Around Sun” to introduce the survey results but as the article says:

Gallup, the pollster who conducted the study, gamely tried to dress it up by celebrating the fact that “four out of five Americans know Earth revolves around the sun” but we’re not buying it.

4. Christianity is older than Judaism. Despite biblical evidence (must have been lost in the awesomeness of the eye for an eye stuff), 41% of Americans are not sure if Judaism is older than Christianity.

5. Afghanistan? Iraq? Nine out of 10 young adults aged 18 to 24 cannot find Afghanistan on a map even if you first give them a map of Asia to give them a head start. Sixty-three percent can’t find Iraq.

6. First Amendment has Exceptions. A 2008 survey by the First Amendment Center showed that 29% of Americans believe that the constitutional right to freedom of religion “was never meant to apply to religious groups that the majority of the people consider extreme or on the fringe”, a 10 percent increase from 2000. The 2009 survey shows that nineteen percent of Americans think that the First Amendment goes too far in the rights it guarantees.


My addition to the list doesn’t involve a poll but does involve politicians.

Here is something that many people think is true because it is being put forward by Paul Ryan, John Boehner and the Tea Party GOP and there is not much pushback in the mainstream media.

7. Social Security is in imminent danger of collapse. Actually, from the SSA, Social Security is doing pretty well considering the recession:

•The projected point at which the combined Trust Funds will be exhausted comes in 2037 – the same as the estimate in last year’s report. At that time, there will be sufficient tax revenue coming in to pay about 78 percent of benefits.
•The projected point at which tax revenues will fall below program costs comes in 2010. Tax revenues will again exceed program costs in 2012 through 2014 before permanently falling below program costs in 2015 — one year sooner than the estimate in last year’s report.
•The projected actuarial deficit over the 75-year long-range period is 1.92 percent of taxable payroll — 0.08 percentage point smaller than in last year’s report.
The worsening of the short-range outlook for the Social Security Trust Funds is due in large part to the recent economic downturn.

Despite the recession and subsequent loss of revenue, the fund will continue to run a surplus until 2015. That is without making any adjustments to the payroll tax or raising the earnings limit above the current $106,800. A Senate report from 2008 shows what would happen if we eliminated the earnings cap:

If all earnings were subject to the payroll tax, but the base was retained for benefit calculations, the
Social Security Trust Funds would remain solvent for the next 75 years.
Since the cap was indexed to the average growth in wages, the share of the population below the cap has remained relatively stable at roughly 94%.
If the base were removed in 2013, CRS estimates that by 2035, 21% of beneficiaries would have paid some additional payroll taxes over the course of their lifetimes. However, the average change in taxes and benefits would be small. Looking only at individuals who would pay any additional taxes over the course of their lifetimes, at the median, total lifetime tax payments would rise by 3%. In general, those in the highest income groups would have the largest changes in both tax payments and in benefits relative to current law.

The bolded phrase is the real reason that the Tea Party GOP has no interest in fixing Social Security.

The biggest threat to Social Security has a tea bag on its head, a pleasant face and an earnest look. Like it often does.

(A version of this was originally posted on 08/26/2010 at BPI Campus)