Friday, June 3, 2011

TEXPERS Poll Questions Underlying Assumptions in Public Discourse

Last week TEXPERS released the results of a public opinion poll we commissioned in March seeking Texans’ views on public employee pensions.
The results were very informative to discussions of public attitudes toward the men and women who provide services to the general public as firemen, police and municipal employees, like sanitation workers, librarians, etc. In fact, we know of no other poll that seeks to understand this dynamic in Texas. We will be writing about the poll results a great deal in the future as we think they provide a lot of insights into people’s attitudes toward their own retirements as well as their attitudes toward the retirement plans for public employees.

But for this blog post, the headline is really the most important point:  “TEXPERS Poll Confirms Texans’ Positive View of Public Employee Retirement Plans.” Our hunch that most Texans’ view the current systems as working in the public interest was validated by this poll of 503 Texans, across the state, both retired and working. And these Texans weren’t just anybody. They were registered voters with 401(k) plans themselves.

So why did we select this group of Texans to the exclusion of all other viewpoints?

A number of reasons really, but the core reason is our sense that there seems to be a general assumption by many – especially some newly elected politicians – that 401(k)s are the end-all, be-all retirement vehicle for all people. Don’t you get that sense as well? Don’t you feel that most people just unquestioningly accept that 401(k)s are the only best option available to them? And then they just assume that 401(k)s should be the only option public employees should have?

Our view is that we need to question those assumptions. Before we change a system that is working well for public interests, we need to consider what the alternative would be. And our poll, by interviewing only 401(k) holders, sought to find out whether the people most familiar with 401(k)s think that those plans are all that they are cracked up to be. If 401(k)s were really doing their jobs as well as their proponents suggest, wouldn’t all respondents or at least large majorities support that perceived popularity?

That certainly wasn’t the case in our poll. That’s why it’s interesting and deserves further discussion. We’ll do so frequently in this blog. – Max Patterson

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