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Poll: Public Doesn’t Want to Cut Entitlements

Yet again we see that despite lots of rhetoric about massive cuts and austerity the public isn’t in favor of making cuts to one of the major drivers of the increased cost of the government.  Via the WSJPoll Shows Budget-Cuts Dilemma:

In the poll, Americans across all age groups and ideologies said by large margins that it was “unacceptable” to make significant cuts in entitlement programs in order to reduce the federal deficit. Even tea party supporters, by a nearly 2-to-1 margin, declared significant cuts to Social Security “unacceptable.”

For example, 76% of respondents oppose cutting Medicare (30% find it “unacceptable” and 46% find it “totally unacceptable”) and 77% oppose cuts to Social Security (25% find it “unacceptable” and 52% find it “totally unacceptable”).

So, we see for the umpteenth time that there is a yawning chasm between what a lot of the public says that they want (small government in terms of spending) and what they are willing to do to achieve it (cut spending in entitlement programs).

There is, however, substantial support for means testing for Social Security, as well as for raising the retirement age:

More than 60% of poll respondents supported reducing Social Security and Medicare payments to wealthier Americans. And more than half favored bumping the retirement age to 69 by 2075. The age to receive full benefits is 66 now and is scheduled to rise to 67 in 2027.

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About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. Moosebreath says:

    Questions about reducing the deficit by raising taxes were not asked here (whereas they typically are in similar polls I have seen, and do better than cutting aything except foreign aid). I guess that’s beyond the pale for the WSJ.

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  2. ponce says:

    Moose,

    If you dig through the poll you’ll find 81% support for raising taxes on people with incomes over $1 million a year.

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  3. Drew says:

    Of course, they have been conditioned to believe that somone else will foot the bills. And in fact, this is the reality of the increasingly concentrated tax base at upper income levels.

    I’d like to see the poll if somelike along the lines of this was posed: “unlike President Obama’s repeated assertions that only 3% of the taxpayers will be affected by the tax increases, YOU will have to pay significantly more taxes to retain these programs, as in thousands.”

    Dave Schuler has done an excellent job of pointing out the simple arithmetic indicating tax increases simply cannot get us out of this fiscal mess.

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  4. michael reynolds says:

    No, Drew:

    Dave Schuler has done an excellent job of pointing out the simple arithmetic indicating tax increases simply cannot get us out of this fiscal mess.

    He’s done an excellent job of showing that tax cuts alone aren’t enough. As I recall he thinks we need cuts and tax increases. As do most rational people who look at the situation.

    And by the way, those people who you think have been conditioned to believe someone else will pay obviously include the Tea Partiers who were presumably not so programmed by Democrats. In fact, it was Mr. Reagan who started us down the yellow brick road to crazytown where tax cuts were self-financing and “the beast” would simply starve.

    We’re getting closer to reality time when people begin to get it through their thick heads that we’ve been telling the truth from the start: that cutting taxes did not create jobs, it did however contribute mightily to the deficit we’ll now have to pay with interest.

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  5. EJ says:

    This is why i hate these types of polls… having people say dont cut dirrectly contradicts their next answer of supporting raising the age and means testing. Another poll from quinipiac that came out said when you word the question would you be willing to take a reduction in benifits if it meant the program was put on stable footing for 50 years, about 60% said yes.

    There is something not working right in these polls. I assume its because when “cut” is used people think of that as meaning their check will disappear, but when you say things like raise the retirment age, people are more clear.

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  6. EJ says:

    “that cutting taxes did not create jobs, it did however contribute mightily to the deficit we’ll now have to pay with interest.”

    Correction, cutting taxes while also growing spending raises the deficit.

    People get caught up with the actual posted rate too much without considering what the rate applies to. Because of bracket creap (wages grow faster than inflation) , more an mroe income is taxed at higher rates as the eocnomy grows. So even with the Bush tax rate deductions, tax revenue as a percent of the economy in 2007 was the same as it was in 1996 (never mindt hat revenue per capita was way higher). And iof rates reamin what they are, by 2011 or so, revenues will be the highest percent of GDP that they ever have been.

    (this is the reason why revenues were not any higher when there was a 72% marginal rate – because that didnt kick in until you made about 5 million in income in todays dollars, and it was easy to get around it if that did apply to you by just taking compensation in kind rather than in cash. Today, virtually everything is taxed and the higher rate kicks in at a much lower 300k.)

    The part of the ledger that is way out of wack right now relative to historical trends is not tax revenues – its the spending side.

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  7. EJ says:

    * should be “by 2017”

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  8. Jack says:

    Phase out social security. Anyone under 40 – gets none but have to pay nothing into SS either. To pay for SS, bring our troops home from Europe and 900 permanent bases around the world. England, Japan, Germany can pay to maintain/support their own military installations. Call us if you need us.
    England is now our #1 debt holder- WHY are we their private police force defending their country and the rest of europe?

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  9. Steven Plunk says:

    The public doesn’t care for paying taxes either but we’re not going to do away with them. It’s time for our elected representatives to do what is necessary to keep the country solvent. Better to have less in the future than none at all. I’m ready to take my cuts.

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  10. michael reynolds says:

    EJ:

    Actually, OTB blogger Alex Knapp has pretty well demolished the notion that spending is the only problem.

    Reagan cut taxes while increasing defense spending and doing nothing to curb any other spending.

    George W. Bush cut taxes while fighting two wars and doing nothing to cut other spending.

    We don’t cut spending because people like the spending. They like the SS and they like the Medicare. What we obviously need is a way to hold down the rising costs of medical. The best way to do so is single-payer, which the GOP cannot abide.

    Why can’t they abide single-payer? Because of concerns over the costs or the deficit? No. They can’t abide it because it’s the end of their sophomoric philosophy of demonizing government.

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  11. hey norm says:

    This is the Reagan years all over again…people talk big about slashing spending and small government until they see what that actually means…then they want no part of it. Maddow had a great bit last night showing how people like to call themselves conservative, but actually subscribe to very liberal ideas…you know like educating kids and policing streets and taking care of the elderly.
    This is made muddier still by the fact that there are really no conservative leaders today…I mean reall conservatives. As Herzberger said today: “…I mean, really: calling these people—the Limbaugh/Fox News/Gingrich/Tea Party set—conservatives is almost as much a misnomer as calling Obama a Marxist or liberals Communists. These people need to read their Burke, their Hayek—even (am I really saying this?) their Buckley. And, of course, their Oakeshott…”

    Read more http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/hendrikhertzberg/2011/03/andrew-frankly.html#ixzz1FYtPi4j6

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  12. Wiley Stoner says:

    Everybody want someone else to pay for their stuff. Where does that “RIGHT” come from? You are not entitled to my stuff. What I earn I get to keep. I will pay my fair share, but this ain’t a collective. If you want socialism go where it exists. I will fight to the death (of you) to keep my freedom and my money.

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  13. Dave Schuler says:

    In other news free beer remains popular.

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  14. wr says:

    It’s okay, Wiley, you can put down the gun. No one’s coming to take your trailer away.

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  15. EJ says:

    Michael,

    You just gave me two expamples of cutting taxes while increasing spending… that is exactly what i said leads to deficits. But if you look at the historical revenue and spending graphs as a percent of the economy, tax revenue is projected over this next decade to be well in line with the historical norm – if anything its ont he high end. Its the spending that si out of wach.

    Then you say the following:

    “We don’t cut spending because people like the spending.”

    By that same logic, we dont raise taxes because people dont like paying taxes. They are two sides of the same coin. If your argument for not cutting much spending is people like spending, the reverse can be said about taxes – we shouldnt raise taxes because people dont like raised taxes.

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  16. Drew says:

    Michael –

    “He’s done an excellent job of showing that tax cuts alone aren’t enough. As I recall he thinks we need cuts and tax increases. As do most rational people who look at the situation.”

    I know your post was a typo. But what he has said is that tax increses can’t come within a country mile of solving the problem. It will thake significant cuts or reductions in the rate of spending growth. I, being a rational person, also believe that things like means testing and pushing out the retirement age need to be done. But I also, being a rational person, know how politicians will react to polls like this: spend the tax increases. And being a rational person therefore want to fight off tax increases as vigorously as possible without iron clad spending reductions.

    You should try being arational person sometime before the end of this century.

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  17. michael reynolds says:

    Yes, free beer.

    Which is why what we need to do is outgrow these calcified, knee-jerk responses. It is like some echo of Lite beer commercials past: Less Filling! Tastes Great!

    If we need to both cut what we spend, and raise taxes, then we need both sides to work together in an ideology-free zone. What we have now is, “You first!”

    The Democrats are absolutely ready to launch a “They’re kicking grandma into the gutter!” attack, and the GOP is ready with the inevitable, “Socialism! Negro socialism!” line of attack.

    The difference is that at least Democrats don’t believe in magic. Or at least believe in a smaller-scale distortion of reality. We’ve never accepted the idea that we could make money trickle down out of the sky by cutting taxes for rich people. We’ve always accepted that bills would have to be paid. The Dem’s craziness comes in the belief that when the bills are paid, they’ll only be paid by rich people.

    But let’s in the interests of bipartisanship accept that both sides are lying, and have been for at least 30 years.

    If we try to move forward, for example, to a single-payer health system which everyone knows is the right answer, and if we means-test SS and Medicare which everyone knows makes sense, and if we raise the cap on SS contributions, and raise the marginal rate back to Clinton-era, and cut the defense budget, how do we get the American people — who’ve been lied to so effectively for so long — to agree?

    It’s going to mean that the Right abandons core elements of its philosophy. It just doesn’t have the same impact on the Left. We don’t need to stop being Democrats to believe that it makes more sense to retire at 70. Or that it makes sense to tax middle-class people a bit more, too. Or that we should push back much harder on public employee pension plans.

    The systemic ideological problem here is on the Right. It requires compromise from our side, and near-total ideological collapse from the Right.

    Democrats believe the goal of a competent, lean, effective government with a western-style safety net paid for in full without borrowing, makes sense.

    Republicans believe government is inherently evil — at best a necessary evil — and that taxation is theft.

    Who on our side is willing to compromise to take us to a rational conclusion? Obama. And who on the Republican side? What have you got, Richard Lugar?

    As the Israelis like to say, we have no partner for peace. We’re ready, the GOP is not.

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  18. mantis says:

    If you want socialism go where it exists.

    If you want no government and no social contract, go where there are none: Somalia. I hear it’s lovely.

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  19. Steve Verdon says:

    He’s done an excellent job of showing that tax cuts alone aren’t enough.

    Zoinks! I think you are reading a different Dave Schuler.

    As I recall he thinks we need cuts and tax increases. As do most rational people who look at the situation.

    Not according to the poll….

    What we obviously need is a way to hold down the rising costs of medical. The best way to do so is single-payer, which the GOP cannot abide.

    Right because it has worked so well for Canada and the UK.

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  20. Steve Verdon says:

    If you want no government and no social contract, go where there are none: Somalia. I hear it’s lovely.

    Maybe…..

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  21. mantis says:

    Seriously? A Reason article from six years ago? How’s all that dreamy stuff working out? Couldn’t dig up anything more recent? Do you even realize what it’s like in Somalia right now?

    Sure there’s severely deficient access to clean water, virtually no education, hardly any skilled professionals, especially medical, two Islamist groups have joined forces to maintain chaos and (they hope) set up a good old fashioned Wahhabist nightmare state–Islamists, I might add, who are basically an al Qaeda subsidiary and are now spreading their attacks into neighboring countries–unbelievably rampant and brazen piracy, but there’s some internet cafes in Mogadishu, so it’s not so bad, says Reasonoid.

    Wake up, dude.

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  22. michael reynolds says:

    Verdon:

    They don’t do a poll of rational people. Too small a sample.

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  23. steve says:

    “pushing out the retirement age need to be done. ”

    Fine for desk jockeys. How about manual laborers?

    Steve

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  24. sam says:

    I understand Reason is setting up a website, http://www.galtgulch.com, where folks can apply for Somali citizenship; buy airlines tickets (complementary AK-47 included, ammo extra); buy water purification tablets in bulk; get a letter of introduction to a number of gang chiefs; and, if water views are desired, a similar letter to a number of pirate chiefs. I note they recommend you plan your trip at least six months in advance to give you time to stockpile units of your own blood. The site also claims to provide assistance in transferring your wealth to a local bank, and states a guarantee that no more than 40% of your wealth will have to be paid in bribes. Legal representation is available from the international firm of Nasty, Brutish, and Short, headquartered in Lagos, Nigeria.

    Sounds like a good deal.

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  25. matt b says:

    Of course, they have been conditioned to believe that somone else will foot the bills. And in fact, this is the reality of the increasingly concentrated tax base at upper income levels.

    This, like “look at those idiots who don’t want socialized medicine, but still want their medicare”, completely misses the wholly rational aspect of this seeming contradiction.

    Basically, we are meeting the HUGE gap between two fundamentally contradictory American principles:
    1. In general, we all want whats best for the country… and largely speaking we can agree on the big issues (if not how to get there).
    2. In general, we all want what we feel we have earned.

    A suggestion for understanding this issue is the mistake of using entitlement. The Tea Party demonstrates that. Thus this isn’t about wanting “someone else to foot the bill.” No, this is about wanting to get back the money that you put into the system and were promised.

    This is about a moral contract between people who payed in advance and the government that promised to pay them back. In other words, it isn’t socialism if you already paid for it.

    The only way that this *might* be handled is what Jack suggested — choose a cut-off age and stop all contributions for people below that age.[*] But there’s no chance in hell that anyone’s going to be able to touch most people’s money in any effective way.

    [*] — Of course this type of radical move does need to be considered from a moral perspective as well — and I suspect that a general level of “decency” that’s also an aspect of this country will resist the possibility of a total removal of safety net (which gets us back to the problem at hand).

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  26. michael reynolds says:

    steve:

    I would think we can work in some exceptions.

    Not sure there are that many manual laborers left, although there certainly are some in places like meat-cutting plants, machine shops, so on. Of course we’re going to have that problem wherever we set the retirement age. A lot of guys (like the dude typing this comment) couldn’t pull an 8 hour shift on their feet even at, say, 56.

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  27. anjin-san says:

    > Negro socialism!

    Is that really what he is doing? Fvck! Well, now I am worried. Socialism, I can handle. I am a Democrat. Lenin is my guide. But this is just wrong…

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  28. Of course the public is opposed to it, most don’t pay for the benefits they get today and they are openly encouraged of the need to rape those rich bastards, so why should you expect anything different?

    Of course, as Margaret Thatcher once famously noted — paraphrasing, eventually you’ll run out of rich bastards.

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  29. An Interested Party says:

    …most don’t pay for the benefits they get today…

    Really? Where is the evidence to support that claim…

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  30. Matt B says:

    Of course the public is opposed to it, most don’t pay for the benefits they get today

    But a lot (and a rapidly increasing number) *already paid* for the benefits that they are getting today (or their spouse paid for them in advance).

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  31. […] Poll: Public Doesn’t Want to Cut Entitlements […]

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