Polling Entitlement Reform

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House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan

BY JOHN FUND – The CBS News/New York Times poll is thought to skew a little to the left due to its tendency to oversample Democrats. That’s why Washington insiders sat up and took notice on Good Friday, when the poll reported that a plurality of Americans actually approve of GOP Rep. Paul Ryan’s Medicare reforms.


A startling 47% approved of changing Medicare from a program in which the government “pays doctors and hospitals for treating seniors” to a program in which the government “helps seniors purchase private health insurance.” Only 41% disagreed.

Polling results can vary dramatically based on many factors, including question wording. A recent Washington Post/ABC News survey found 65% opposing the Ryan voucher plan. But the Post’s wording makes it sound as if current retirees would have their Medicare benefits changed, even though Mr. Ryan’s plan exempts anyone 55 years of age or older. That is a key difference that may account for the polling variation. Other surveys that more closely follow the Times’ wording indicate a plurality of Americans back the Ryan approach.

The Times poll contains other data that should worry President Obama if he continues to demagogue the House-passed GOP budget. By 55% to 33%, Americans prefer a smaller government with fewer services to a bigger government with more services. That basic 3-to-2 ratio — indicating this is a center-right nation — has prevailed for a quarter-century.

Similarly, by 2-to-1 Americans would rather cut spending on programs that benefit them than see their taxes go up. Even when it comes to Medicare spending, respondents in the Times poll say they are “willing” to reduce Medicare spending, by a 48% to 45% plurality.

Mr. Obama thought that his attacks on the Ryan budget would rally his liberal base and help scare voters away from any meaningful entitlement reform. So far, the evidence that his strategy is working is scant, and Republicans appear to have a solid core of support to build on.