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Polling Tells the Tale: Don’t Cut Social Security or Medicare

Recent polling indicates that Americans strongly reject any cuts to the social safety net, which they already find somewhat inadequate to their needs. I say “recent polling” here but I shouldn’t really distinguish, since this has been a feature of polling for years upon years. First, let’s take a look at the Ap/GfK poll:

They’re not buying it. Most Americans say they don’t believe Medicare has to be cut to balance the federal budget, and ditto for Social Security, a new poll shows.

The Associated Press-GfK poll suggests that arguments for overhauling the massive benefit programs to pare government debt have failed to sway the public. The debate is unlikely to be resolved before next year’s elections for president and Congress.

Americans worry about the future of the retirement safety net, the poll found, and 3 out of 5 say the two programs are vital to their basic financial security as they age. That helps explain why the Republican Medicare privatization plan flopped, and why President Barack Obama’s Medicare cuts to finance his health care law contributed to Democrats losing control of the House in last year’s elections.

59% in the poll said it’s possible to balance the budget without cutting Social Security. Which actually shows the confusion about the program, since it has a dedicated funding source and has not contributed one penny to the deficit.

Here’s some more evidence from PPP in the swing states:

Public Policy Polling (D) conducted the polls, which were sponsored by the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, Democracy For America, and CREDO Action. All four groups are strongly opposed to making cuts to Social Security, which some — including President Obama’s debt commission — have said are necessary to put the government’s fiscal house in order for the future.

The PPP numbers, gathered between late April and last week, suggest the electorate is on the side of the progressives. The polls were conducted in the home states of Democratic Sens. Sherrod Brown (OH), Claire McCaskill (MO), John Tester (MT), and Amy Klobuchar (MN), all of whom are up for reelection in 2012.

The results (each poll surveyed more than a thousand people has a margin of error of about 3%):

In order to reduce the national debt, would you support or oppose cutting spending on Social Security, which is the retirement program for the elderly?

Ohio: 16% support, 80% oppose
Missouri: 17% support, 76% oppose
Montana: 20% support, 76% oppose
Minnesota: 23% support, 72% oppose

I’ve been critical of Democratic efforts to take a stand on not cutting or privatizing Social Security or Medicare, while being indifferent to cuts to other safety net programs like food stamps or Medicaid. But at least there’s some manner of contrast here. It’s a thin platform, but there’s a synergy between Democrats and 75-80% of the electorate in these states, and more broadly across the country.

Just to reiterate as I should in any post about the deficit, this is pretty simple. To deal with the medium-term deficit, let the Bush tax cuts expire and bring revenue back to the Clinton era. Then, adopt Vermont’s nascent single-payer system to bring down long-term health care costs. I’ve just eliminated any deficit concerns with no material impact on economic growth (in fact, the freedom of health care security without job lock will increase entreprenurial potential). In the near term, we need more stimulus.

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David Dayen

David Dayen

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