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Politicians, be careful talking about shared sacrifice, pollster says (VIDEO)

Voters get nervous when candidates talk about sacrifice, says Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg. But at the same time, he says, voters tend to support changes that would shore up Social Security.

By Dave CookStaff writer / December 16, 2011

Stanley Greenberg, Chairman of Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research and a founder of Democracy Corps speaks at the the Monitor Breakfast at the Capital Hilton Hotel in Washington, D.C., Friday.

Michael Bonfigli/The Christian Science Monitor

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It makes voters nervous when candidates talk about sacrifice, says Democratic pollster Stanley Greenberg.

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“Sacrifice is an elite term,” Mr. Greenberg said at a Monitor-hosted breakfast for reporters on Friday. He conducts a variety of polls and focus groups for political and corporate clients as well as for Democracy Corps, a liberal polling and strategy organization he cofounded with James Carville. Greenberg served as Bill Clinton's pollster.  

When asked at the breakfast whether voters would be willing to sacrifice to solve America’s budget problems, Greenberg noted that they had seen “CEOs who drove down their companies at the trough, getting their bank bonus.” Meanwhile, he said, the average worker’s inflation-adjusted wages have declined. 

“When they hear it is time for sacrifice, they are cautious about, Is there really going to be shared sacrifice; can we trust them?” he said.  

At the same time, sacrifice by the wealthy is a popular concept. “There is one bipartisan issue in the country – that rich people ought to pay more for addressing our problems,” Greenberg said. “Eighty percent of the country favors increased taxes” for the rich.  

Still, he said, “people want to address the [budget] deficit because they think the deficit is endangering Social Security.” So, despite being nervous when politicians talk about sacrifice, voters “are very much for ... a bipartisan deal on Social Security ... making changes that will make it secure.”  

In that context, he said, voters "will support changes that could include retirement age, could include a range of things."

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