GOP Divided Over Social Security Cuts

Wealthier Republicans support entitlement cuts more than middle class and low income members.

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The majority of Americans think that Social Security (87 percent) and Medicare (88 percent) are good for the country. And considerably more citizens (60 percent) say it is more important to keep Social Security and Medicare benefits as they are, than to cut entitlements to reduce the budget deficit (32 percent), according to a Princeton Survey Research Associates International survey of 1,502 adults commissioned by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. But opinions are largely split along party and income lines.

[See 10 Ways to Boost Your Social Security Checks.]

Maintaining existing entitlements is favored by Republicans (50 percent), independents (53 percent), and Democrats (72 percent). However, Republicans are twice as likely as Democrats to say deficit reduction is the higher priority (42 percent verses 21 percent).

Wealthier Republicans are much more likely to desire entitlement cuts in order to reduce the deficit. Republicans and Republican-leaners earning $75,000 or more per year overwhelmingly prioritize reducing the deficit over maintaining entitlement benefits (63 percent versus 29 percent). But the majority of Republicans earning under $75,000 per year say it is more important to preserve Social Security and Medicare. And low-income Republicans earning less than $30,000 say it is much more important to continue to provide current benefit levels than to pay off the deficit (62 percent versus 33 percent). “The balance of opinion among low-income Republicans is similar to how Democrats view the issue,” according to the Pew Research Center report. In contrast, there are no ideological differences in the views of Democrats across income categories. The majority of Democrats and Democratic-leaners in every income range say that keeping benefits as they are is more important than deficit reduction.

[See 12 Ways to Fix Social Security.]

Age also plays a role in support for maintaining entitlements. Those living in households receiving Medicare or Social Security benefits are more likely to rate the quality of the programs positively than younger people still paying into the system. About two-thirds of those 50 and older (65 percent) say keeping benefits as they are is a priority, compared to 55 percent of those younger than 50. A majority of Republicans age 65 and older prioritize preserving benefits over deficit reduction, while those under age 50 are divided on the issue. However, partisanship plays a much larger role than age in support for entitlements, the Pew Research Center found. Even the youngest Democrats are more supportive of maintaining Social Security and Medicare benefits than the oldest Republicans (63 percent versus 52 percent).

Most Americans say it is more important to avoid future cuts in Social Security benefits (56 percent) than future increases in Social Security taxes for workers and employers (33 percent). However, two-thirds of Democrats (67 percent) say avoiding benefit cuts is more important, compared to only about half of independents (55 percent) and Republicans (49 percent).

[See Social Security Suspends Annual Statements.]

Most individuals also oppose asking Medicare recipients to pay for more of their health care costs out-of-pocket. Some 61 percent of those surveyed say people on Medicare already pay enough of their own health care costs, while 31 percent say seniors should pay a larger share of their medical expenses in order to make the system more financially secure. Majorities of Republicans (53 percent), Democrats (72 percent), and independents (58 percent) say that people on Medicare already pay an adequate amount for their health care. But 41 percent of Republicans say Medicare beneficiaries should bear more of the costs, compared with 32 percent of independents and 23 percent of Democrats. Nearly half (48 percent) of Republicans and Republican-leaners with family incomes of $75,000 or more are in favor of more individual responsibility for the costs of Medicare, compared with just 33 percent among those with annual incomes below $30,000.

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