What conservatives want (don’t want)

by on February 11, 2011 at 5:03 am in Data Source, Economics, Political Science | Permalink

This is from a poll of self-identified conservative Republicans:

When we asked last month about their thoughts on the best way to reduce the deficit, here’s how they replied:

†¢ 56 percent said cut spending across the board
†¢ 27 percent said cut spending from all government budgets except the military
†¢ 10 percent said pass a balanced budget amendment
†¢ 3 percent said cut taxes
†¢ 3 percent said fix Social Security and Medicare so they don’t pay out more than they take in

That was pretty revealing. Social Security and Medicare will drive our long-term structural deficits and crush our economy along the way. But even though the issue is getting some play in the media, it doesn’t seem to be getting through to the grassroots.

There is more at the link.  You might think that the desire for across the board spending cuts is picking up the fiscal conservatism, but the follow-up questions don't show a great desire to limit Social Security or Medicare.  Only thirty-five percent of the recipients favor both raising the retirement age for benefits and also means-testing. 

You may recall that fiscal conservative Paul Ryan didn't mention Social Security or Medicare in his response to Obama's State of the Union address.

Addendum: Here is a related poll.

1 Tom of the Missouri February 11, 2011 at 1:25 am

As a an actual Conservative I agree your poll leads one to believe that self identified conservatives as a whole are pretty clueless as to what is going to lead us to our doom. However as a true Conservative I have never felt that Republicans, which is where most self identified conservatives vote politically are great politically or economically, but that they are just far superior to self identified Democrats. Have you ever reported on an identical poll on Democrats on the exact same questions? Seeing that contrast would be most informative. What was your point of only showing the so called self identified conservative cluelessness alone? Was it to discredit them? I think that without the comparison it is of not that much value.

2 Andrew February 11, 2011 at 3:02 am

Do people who think means-testing is a no-brainer realize it may be viewed as repudiation?

3 Matt February 11, 2011 at 3:34 am

Wouldn't entitlements fall under an across the board cut? This is not a well phrased poll.

4 Michael Foody February 11, 2011 at 4:15 am

It's worse than that. If you get into programs in any specificity most conservatives are likely to be against cutting them. The effect is probably even more pronounced when you just bring up the question of a specific cut without pre-committing them moments earlier with a question about cutting the budget more generally.

5 Andrew February 11, 2011 at 4:52 am

"If you get into programs in any specificity"
That's why cutting across the board is the best approach.

I wonder how many voters conflate "cut spending" with "you are already doing a good job with the resources you've been given in this area."

6 Alfrederick February 11, 2011 at 5:01 am


If "56 percent said cut spending across the board," why do you assume that Social Security and Medicare are not on the "board." I assumed board meant all spending. What are you assuming it means?

Most conservatives I know are willing to gut any of their sacred cows as long as everything else gets gutted as well. As a libertarian that's something I can get behind. It's far better than what I heard on NPR yesterday where Democrats were screaming, "Think of the children!" while simultaneously saying, "This won't make a dent, so why bother?"

7 Bam February 11, 2011 at 5:39 am

"Have you ever reported on an identical poll on Democrats on the exact same questions? Seeing that contrast would be most informative. What was your point of only showing the so called self identified conservative cluelessness alone? Was it to discredit them? I think that without the comparison it is of not that much value."

Sadly, this kind of response is typical of modern political conversation. Instead of internalizing the question and doing some political introspection, the reader assumes that there is some degree of malice behind the question. The question, by the way, the reader doesn't appear to answer for himself. What would be more informative is to answer the question of why don't the polled conservatives address social security and medicaid, and why didn't Paul address them either? RobbL directly answers Tom of the Missouri's 'What about the other guy?' charge by pointing out some potential inconsistencies in the logic of budget cutting agendas as stated by conservatives, in his view.

If the point of the question, to borrow Tom's wording, is the apparent "conservative cluelessness alone", then address that point. Shifting the argument to another issue, say, the liberal cluelessness, is a diversion at the least and an intellectual evasion at the most. It is a diversion if the reader didn't intend to not answer the original point. It's an evasion if he'd prefer not to. American political conversion is rife with such behavior, across the political spectra, which makes political conversation in this country not much fun.

8 mulp February 11, 2011 at 6:14 am

Why is Social Security always listed as a big driver of structural deficits?

Military is the biggest driver of deficits in the current budget because conservative Republicans refuse to hike taxes to pay for military.

And taxing is the third reason for the first enumerated power of Congress, after the first reason: paying debt, and the second reason: promoting the general welfare.

Ronald Reagan hiked the payroll tax in 1983 to pay for the general welfare of workers in the SSI program which covers disability, survivors, dependents, and old age benefits to workers. One-third of the SSI beneficiaries are not retired worker benefits, but disabled or dependent benefits.

The SSI program is far from having the structural deficit problem of the military spending as proposed by conservative Republicans overall (Ron Paul and other libertarians are to be commended for their position on military spending – he rejects broad use of the first enumerated power of Congress in all three purposes.)

And health care spending has risen almost uncontrollably under conservative Republican leadership – the US taxpayer on average pays more in taxes to fund health care for a minority of the US population than Canadians pay per person in total to provide coverage for everyone residing in Canada. While there are delays in Canada, they are no where near as long as the delays for primary care in the US for those excluded from both the government and private sector health care system in the US for lack off sufficient money while having too much money from working to get government health care assistance.

No one has demonstrated a way of controlling health care costs when those who vote in large numbers get their own specialized government protected health care systems (Medicare and employer paid insurance) while denying equal coverage to those who don't or can't vote, or who don't represent a large voting block. While not a violation of equal protection constitutionally, it is a violation of the equal protection principle. Until all citizens are in the same health care vote, we can't control the explosive growth in health care spending in the private or public sector.

9 Yancey Ward February 11, 2011 at 7:05 am

You have to start somewhere. I am actually quite pleased with the poll results- it suggests that, at the very least, conservatives are starting to take the problem seriously. Take this same poll two years from now and see which way the numbers have moved- are conservatives then more realistic, or less. I will bet on more. There is a definitely been a change in the last 2 years, but it will need follow-through to be meaningful.

10 Andrew February 11, 2011 at 7:35 am

"By the same logic that says that raising taxes, closing loopholes, or cutting spending would be repudiation?"

By the same logic perhaps, but not the the same degree I suspect.

I agree with you on immigration, but I have never seen a libertarian suggest immigration to be a 'solution' because it gives more cash flow to the government, but I don't read everything. I've seen a lot of leftish folks saying similar things. I've only always ever said that immigration and fixing entitlements are a package deal. In fact, I consider tax avoidance one of the upsides to illegal immigration. I wish I could be an undocumented worker.

11 Michael Cain February 11, 2011 at 7:48 am

No one's models show Social Security "crushing" the economy: the costs rise to about 6.2% of GDP and stabilize there, in response to demographics. The Boomers don't affect where it ends up in the long term, only how quickly we get to that level.

The models that show Medicare "crushing" the economy at 20% of GDP also show that at least half of total GDP is spending on health care. If we are going to be rich enough to afford that, we will be rich enough to afford the Medicare portion.

12 Bernard Yomtov February 11, 2011 at 8:00 am

Does this mean we can stop hearing about how conservative Republicans think that tax cuts more than pay for themselves? 3% at most hold to this view.

No. That's not what the survey says. Besides, GOP politicians are happy to keep saying tax cuts are self-financing, so I guess you are going to have to put up with it until you can convince your allies they are just wrong.

You've got work to do.

13 Miles February 11, 2011 at 8:17 am

I have to agree with Alfrederick, Matt and Thomas. If I were taking this poll, I would see the first option as all-encompassing (i.e. "across the board cuts" include Medicare/Social Security fixes), and then think of 150 other things I would cut as well, and thus chose a).

The only thing you can read into this poll is that its amazing that there are conservatives out there who would consider cutting entitlements but NOT cutting arts, healthcare, foreign aid, military, various subsidies, the Fed, etc. etc. etc.

14 msgkings February 11, 2011 at 8:46 am

Andrew wrote: I wish I could be an undocumented worker.

Really, Andrew? That seems like fun?

Those lucky strawberry pickers. What a scam.

15 Barkley Rosser February 11, 2011 at 11:48 am

It is not social security and medicare that drive the structural increase in the deficit, it is medicare and medicaid. Obamacare actually slighly improves the deficit in its entirety, but only slightly. Our dysfunctional political system did not lead to McCain sitting down with Obama to shaft both the lawyers and the insurance industry to get more serious controls on medical costs in general, which is the real issue. The US spends 40% more per capita than any other nation on earth already, but we are barely getting it under control. Social security ain't broke and will not be seriously anytime soon, possibly never. It is a red herring.

The problem of ignorance is not just conservatives or Republicans, but pretty widespread across most of the public. A few years ago a poll was taken asking people which were the largest items in the federal budget. 45% said either foreign aid or welfare. At that time non-military foreign aid was a whopping $12 billion per year, and traditional welfare was about twice that. Pathetic. No wonder out discourse on fiscal matters is so ridiculous.

16 Zach February 11, 2011 at 1:40 pm

"its amazing that there are conservatives out there who would consider cutting entitlements but NOT cutting arts, healthcare, foreign aid, military, various subsidies, the Fed…"

The Fed generally profits and returns income minus expenditures to the Treasury (a few tens of billions a year), so this isn't a great way to reduce the deficit.

17 FormerUsefulIdiot February 11, 2011 at 2:35 pm

Only a fool would count on social security for retirement planning. The more rational question if directed to a true conservative would be" given the option would you opt out of social security to invest in more fruitful alternatives"? What rational person would choose to invest in a ponzi scheme that only pays out for immigrants who move here and get benefits without ever paying a dime into the system? I was a liberal until I had assets. Besides you have to grow up sometime.

18 Zach February 11, 2011 at 4:51 pm

@Barkley — I don't see why that's the case; anyone in the social-security-does-basically-pay-for-itself camp will point to the 2012 Trustees report that includes transfers from general revenues for the last two years and say the same things that they'd say if that money instead came from a 2% payroll tax. We've already passed the revenue/outlay crossover, so now it's just about whether or not one recognizes the trust fund as a legitimate means to pay benefits.

19 Riiight February 11, 2011 at 10:01 pm

It will be an easier sell for the population at large when the government has it's fiscal house in order. When we have a balanced budget ex SS and Medicare, it's really easy to say, hey, there's not enough money to pay all the benefits. Who's willing to give up those benefits when the Treasury is continually looted by successive administrations of both parties. We need to end the free-spending, get yours before it's all gone attitude that exists today. Tyler and others who like be all sophisticated and criticize conservatives for not getting the long term problem need to understand that the real problem is a political class that won't responsibly manage the nation's finances. We'll see how things go with the new congress, but at least at this point the Rs are actually trying to cut something. This is in stark contrast to the Ds of the last session who ran and won on fiscal conservatism and then blew up the budget to previously unimaginable heights. Why, Tyler, do you limit your criticism of continually freespending and intransigent Ds and then make comments about how stupid conservatives are? Afraid of not being accepted in polite beltway society, or do you actually agree with the Ds ways? Seriously, whats wrong with addressing the short term budget problems now and then addressing tue long term ones? Sadly, part of your answer probably is that the political class doesn't have the will to fix the short term stuff, which makes your pious talk about long term problems even more ridiculous. You have to admit that if the current batch of Rs can't do it, we may just be doomed. I have no faith that the Ds will ever make a serious effort to cut spending. It's simply incompatible with their ideology.

20 Julie February 12, 2011 at 11:02 am

It really annoys me when people say the trust fund is just an "accounting trick" and that now than payments are higher than receipts (only because of the current recession, btw), the trust fund doesn't even really exist. Working people like me have been paying into that "imaginary" trust fund their entire lives with the understanding that it does exist and will be used to pay for our retirement.

The real "accounting trick" is pretending that we can give tax cuts to rich people and start expensive wars with no way to pay for them, and if you ask me, it's a really dirty trick to take it out on the people who depend on Social Security.

21 Yancey Ward February 12, 2011 at 1:11 pm


Sorry to inform you, but an accounting device is all that it is. If the so-called bonds in the fund all vanished tomorrow, it wouldn't make a difference at all.

22 Zach February 13, 2011 at 6:53 am

"If the so-called bonds in the fund all vanished tomorrow, it wouldn't make a difference at all."

It would require quite a big change in law as there is no legal mechanism by which this could happen. Go see what folks have projected Treasury will do in the event of Congress balking at raising the debt ceiling: ceasing redemption of securities held by the trust funds isn't on the table. There's a trillion dollars of redeemed bonds a year, so stopping this would be a good accounting trick to temporarily get around the debt ceiling if it were as easy as you think it is.

Speaking specifically about Social Security, the annual deficit going forward a couple decades is a bit smaller than our current annual budget for paying interest on our debt (and thus much smaller than paying interest on our debt is projected to be at that time). If American credit isn't solid enough to fund Social Security, there will be bigger problems with the larger chunk of debt that you think is real.

23 Tom of the Missouri February 13, 2011 at 8:17 pm

Hey Tyler,

Thanks for adding that extra poll contrasting Dems and Repubs.. I think it adds a lot to the discussion. It also shows that if there is ever again going to be any fiscal sanity in the country that Democrats should never ever be elected again or at least never ever again be given control over all three branches of govt. at the same time. As Obama's election shows though, memories are short and modern generations are not taught history or economics.

My best,

Tom of the Missouri

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