Most Americans Oppose Medicare Spending Cuts

March 8, 2011
Laura Enderle, Assistant Editor

Pressure to cut government spending while preserving government heath benefits poses challenges for lawmakers.

As lawmakers struggle to reduce the deficit, more Americans are expressing their support for government entitlement programs. According to a poll by the Wall Street Journal and NBC News, less than one quarter of Americans support cutting Social Security or Medicare to balance the budget.

A similar poll by Harris Interactive demonstrated the widespread popularity of Medicare and Medicaid across party lines. In the Harris poll, more than 70% of all adults, including 60% of Republicans, said they supported Medicare and Medicaid. Support for the programs was comparable to other essential services, such as crime fighting and prevention, national parks, defense, and federal aid to public schools.

“This Harris poll underlines the difficulty faced by lawmakers who want to reduce the budget deficit by cutting spending on public services and programs,” Harris analysts wrote. “This seems to be another case of the phenomenon described in other recent Harris Polls of ‘hate the forest, but like the trees,’ where the forest is government spending and the trees are the programs on which the government spends money.”

The WSJ/NBC poll revealed a similar cognitive dissonance when it asked respondents whether they favored placing limits on these government programs for specific individuals. For example, more than 60% said they supported reducing Social Security and Medicare payments to wealthier Americans. More than 50% said they supported raising the retirement age from 66 to 69 by 2075.

Both sets of results underscore the tremendous challenges lawmakers face if they intend to make cuts to these and other popular benefits programs. Bill McInturff, who conducted the WSJ/NBC poll, said that such strong results are “a huge flashing yellow sign for Republicans on how much preparation will be needed if they propose to change Social Security and Medicare.”

For other articles in this issue, see:

  • Opioid Painkillers Tied to Birth Defect Risk
  • Low Health Literacy to Blame for Medication Misuse