Politicians will face major voter backlash if they advocate cuts in Social Security benefits or choose deficit reduction over job creation, according to a poll by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner commissioned by the Campaign for America’s Future and Democracy Corps, with support from MoveOn.org; the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, and the Service Employees International Union.
At this difficult moment for the struggling economy and country, voters show an uncommon common sense about the choices ahead. For sure, they are concerned about deficits and what impact that will have on future job creation and key obligations, like Social Security. But they are as intent on learning politicians’ plans for investing in new industries and rebuilding the country as they are on learning their plans to reduce the deficit over the next five years. They think they know how we got into this mess – foreign wars and bailouts – and are determined that the highest income earners and big banks finance deficit reduction, not the middle class through Social Security and Medicare cuts or a national a sales tax.
Voters take the long view, seeing the need for both a commitment to a 21st century economy and long-term strategies to reduce the deficit. These are complimentary, not exclusive goals. Progressives need to show they are serious about the deficits, but once they do, voters turn to them, not conservatives, for the right spending priorities and answers.
Voters are united on this key point: Social Security and Medicare are off-limits as a way to reduce the deficit. It is the threat to Social Security that leads many voters to prioritize deficit reductions. Voters instead want to see higher taxes on top income earners and big corporations.
As Social Security celebrates its 75th anniversary this week in the midst of this troubled economy, voters across the political divide want these programs defended.
Key findings of the poll:
- 68 percent said they would oppose making major spending cuts in Social Security and Medicare to reduce the deficit, while 28 percent said they would favor cutting those programs. That included 61 percent of Republicans and 56 percent of independents.
- Strong majorities support progressive solutions for addressing the federal deficit: 63 percent back lifting the Social Security cap on incomes higher than $107,000 a year; 64 percent would favor eliminating tax breaks for corporations that outsource jobs; 62 percent would support a tax on excessive Wall Street bank profits.
- Strong majorities also oppose common conservative proposals for addressing the budget deficit: 65 percent oppose raising the Social Security retirement age to 70; 65 percent oppose replacing Medicare with a private sector voucher; 62 percent oppose a 3 percent federal sales tax; 60 percent oppose raising the Medicare age from 65 to 67.
- More people support a message that embraces the need for both investments in our future and reduce the deficit over time (52 percent) than a message that only stresses cuts in spending (42 percent). Also, almost equal percentages of respondents were favorable toward “a plan to invest in new industries and rebuild the country over the next five years” (60 percent) and “a plan to dramatically reduce the deficit over five years” (61 percent).
- 62 percent of respondents support more federal to states once they understand that the aid comes in the context of states laying off teachers, first responders and other essential workers due to the recession. That includes 55 percent of independents and 48 percent of Republicans.
- 60 percent of those surveyed responded positively to an economic message that said that “we have a budget deficit, but … we also have a massive public investment deficit” that requires us to “rebuild the infrastructure that is vital to our economy” and to the economic growth that will “generate revenues to help pay down the budget deficit.” This message tests better than any other progressive message on investment as well as more conservative messages focused on spending cuts.
The survey of 1,000 2008 voters was conducted July 26-29, 2010. The margin of error is 3.1 percentage points.