How to Keep Lengthening Life Expectancies from Broadening our Budget Deficit?

    NEW YORK , N.Y. – March 5, 2014 – Social security and Medicare are often treated collectively as something of a third rail in politics (though there is admittedly no shortage of those). However, as American life expectancy has increased and as Baby Boomers are now eligible for early retirement and are approaching full retirement benefits eligibility, there is a sense of agreement that something needs to be done in order to keep increasing costs of these programs from forcing the federal budget deficit ever higher. As such, many have recognized that the government will have to modify the Medicare and Social Security programs in some manner to make them sustainable, even if there has been a lack of consensus among our political leaders as to how this might be accomplished. Looking at public sentiment though, Americans appear to favor – given the options on the table – raising the eligibility age for Social Security and Medicare and encouraging more people to work over the age of 65 as the most palatable options.

    These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 2,266 adults surveyed online between February 12 and 17, 2014.

    Some of the poll’s top findings include:

    • When given five choices and asked what they think should happen over the next five years to meet these increasing costs while controlling the budget deficit, the policies chosen by the most Americans are increasing the age at which one is eligible for Social Security and Medicare and encouraging many more people over 65 to work (37% each).
    • Roughly one-fourth (24%) believe that we should increase taxes in order to accomplish this goal, while fewer than one in ten believe we should reduce either Medicare or Social Security benefits (7% each).
    • When asked which two of the five policy options people would choose if they had to pick two, the overall percentages grow but the top, middle and bottom rankings remain relatively unchanged. Encouraging many more people over 65 to work (54%) and increasing the age of eligibility (53%) top the list, followed by increasing taxes (36%) in the middle position, while fewer than one in ten indicate a preference for reducing either Medicare (9%) or Social Security (8%) benefits.

    Differences by generation and gender

    There are some considerable differences at play when examining the results across generational lines. Most notably, Matures, who at 68 and older are already universally eligible for full benefits, are more likely than any other generation to favor increasing the age of eligibility (53%, vs. 28% of Baby Boomers, 36% of Gen Xers, 41% of Echo Boomers). Baby Boomers, whose age range of 49-67 has them either nearing or just at the full retirement benefits age, are only half as likely as Matures to support such a course of action.

    Looking at gender, men are more likely than women to support several of the options provided, including increasing the age of eligibility (41% men vs. 33% women), encouraging many more over 65 to work (40% vs. 33%) and increasing taxes (30% vs. 18%).

    Differences by political party and philosophy

    While substantial differences do exist along political divisions as to the role (if any) that tax increases should play, the real news is perhaps that Americans across both party and philosophical lines show no significant differences from one another in their support of the top two courses of action:

    • By political party:
      • Increasing the age of eligibility – 39% of Republicans, 35% of Democrats and 40% of Independents believe we should do this.
      • Encouraging many more people over 65 to work – 33% of Republicans, 38% of Democrats and 39% of Independents believe we should do this.
      • Increasing taxes – Democrats (34%) are more likely than Independents (23%) to support this; Independents, in turn are more likely to support this than Republicans (15%).
    • By political philosophy:
      • Increasing the age of eligibility – 37% each of Conservatives and Moderates, and 36% of Liberals, believe we should do this.
      • Encouraging many more people over 65 to work – 35% or Conservatives, and 37% each of Moderates and Liberals, believe we should do this.
      • Increasing taxes – Liberals (38%) are more likely to support this than Moderates (25%), who in turn are more likely than Conservatives (12%) to support this course of action.

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    TABLE 1a

    WHAT SHOULD WE DO TO SOCIAL SECURITY AND MEDICARE TO CONTROL BUDGET DEFICIT?

    BY GENERATION & GENDER

    Because of the increase in life expectancy, there will be many more old people alive in ten and twenty years time than ever before. As the number of people over 65 increases substantially, the cost of Social Security and Medicare is likely to increase a lot if we do not change these programs. Which of the following do you think we should do in the next five years to control the budget deficit?

    Base: All Adults

    Total

    Generation

    Gender

    Echo Boomers (18-36)

    Gen Xers (37-48)

    Baby Boomers (49-67)

    Matures (68+)

    Male

    Female

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Increase the age at which one is eligible for Social Security and Medicare

    37

    41

    36

    28

    53

    41

    33

    Encourage many more people over 65 to work

    37

    33

    40

    33

    49

    40

    33

    Increase taxes

    24

    29

    26

    19

    23

    30

    18

    Reduce Medicare benefits

    7

    12

    8

    5

    2

    9

    6

    Reduce Social Security benefits

    7

    13

    7

    4

    1

    8

    6

    None of the above

    37

    34

    36

    44

    27

    31

    43

    Note: Multiple responses allowed.

     

    TABLE 1b

    WHAT SHOULD WE DO TO SOCIAL SECURITY AND MEDICARE TO CONTROL BUDGET DEFICIT?

    BY PARTY & PHILOSOPHY

    Because of the increase in life expectancy, there will be many more old people alive in ten and twenty years time than ever before. As the number of people over 65 increases substantially, the cost of Social Security and Medicare is likely to increase a lot if we do not change these programs. Which of the following do you think we should do in the next five years to control the budget deficit?

    Base: All Adults

    Total

    Political Party

    Political Philosophy

    Republican

    Democrat

    Independent

    Conservative

    Moderate

    Liberal

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Increase the age at which one is eligible for Social Security and Medicare

    37

    39

    35

    40

    37

    37

    36

    Encourage many more people over 65 to work

    37

    33

    38

    39

    35

    37

    37

    Increase taxes

    24

    15

    34

    23

    12

    25

    38

    Reduce Medicare benefits

    7

    8

    5

    10

    9

    8

    5

    Reduce Social Security benefits

    7

    9

    6

    8

    8

    8

    4

    None of the above

    37

    38

    34

    37

    43

    36

    32

    Note: Multiple responses allowed.


    TABLE 1c

    WHAT SHOULD WE DO TO SOCIAL SECURITY AND MEDICARE TO CONTROL BUDGET DEFICIT?

    TREND

    Because of the increase in life expectancy, there will be many more old people alive in ten and twenty years time than ever before. As the number of people over 65 increases substantially, the cost of Social Security and Medicare is likely to increase a lot if we do not change these programs. Which of the following do you think we should do in the next five years to control the budget deficit?

    Base: All Adults

    Total Jan 2010

    Total Feb 2011

    Total Feb 2014

    Change 2010-2014

    Change 2011-2014

    %

    %

    %

    % points

    % points

    Increase the age at which one is eligible for Social Security and Medicare

    30

    37

    37

    +7

    Encourage many more people over 65 to work

    47

    40

    37

    -10

    -3

    Increase taxes

    21

    27

    24

    +3

    -3

    Reduce Medicare benefits

    9

    11

    7

    -2

    -4

    Reduce Social Security benefits

    9

    11

    7

    -2

    -4

    None of the above

    35

    33

    37

    +2

    +4

    Note: Multiple responses allowed.

     

    TABLE 2a

    WHAT WE SHOULD DO IF WE HAVE TO PICK TWO THINGS

    BY GENERATION & GENDER

    Most economists think that it is inevitable that we will have to do one or more of these things, whether we like it or not. If you had to pick two that we should do, which two would you pick?

    Base: All Adults

    Total

    Generation

    Gender

    Echo Boomers (18-36)

    Gen Xers (37-48)

    Baby Boomers (49-67)

    Matures (68+)

    Male

    Female

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Encourage many more people over 65 to work

    54

    43

    52

    60

    66

    54

    54

    Increase the age at which one is eligible for Social Security and Medicare

    53

    51

    51

    50

    70

    51

    55

    Increase taxes

    36

    37

    32

    39

    31

    41

    31

    Reduce Medicare benefits

    9

    13

    10

    7

    2

    9

    9

    Reduce Social Security benefits

    8

    17

    7

    3

    2

    9

    8

    None of the above

    16

    16

    20

    17

    13

    14

    18

    Note: Multiple responses allowed


    TABLE 2b

    WHAT WE SHOULD DO IF WE HAVE TO PICK TWO THINGS

    BY PARTY & PHILOSOPHY

    Because of the increase in life expectancy, there will be many more old people alive in ten and twenty years time than ever before. As the number of people over 65 increases substantially, the cost of Social Security and Medicare is likely to increase a lot if we do not change these programs. Which of the following do you think we should do in the next five years to control the budget deficit?

    Base: All Adults

    Total

    Political Party

    Political Philosophy

    Republican

    Democrat

    Independent

    Conservative

    Moderate

    Liberal

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Encourage many more people over 65 to work

    54

    56

    51

    57

    58

    53

    50

    Increase the age at which one is eligible for Social Security and Medicare

    53

    58

    48

    58

    58

    53

    46

    Increase taxes

    36

    24

    46

    35

    24

    37

    48

    Reduce Medicare benefits

    9

    10

    6

    11

    9

    9

    6

    Reduce Social Security benefits

    8

    12

    6

    8

    10

    8

    7

    None of the above

    16

    17

    17

    12

    18

    16

    16

    Note: Multiple responses allowed.

     

    TABLE 2c

    WHAT WE SHOULD DO IF WE HAVE TO PICK TWO THINGS

    TREND

    Most economists think that it is inevitable that we will have to do one or more of these things, whether we like it or not. If you had to pick two that we should do, which two would you pick?

    Base: All Adults

    Total Jan 2010

    Total Feb 2011

    Total Feb 2014

    Change 2010-2014

    Change 2011-2014

    %

    %

    %

    % points

    % points

    Encourage many more people over 65 to work

    61

    55

    54

    -7

    -1

    Increase the age at which one is eligible for Social Security and Medicare

    46

    51

    53

    +7

    +2

    Increase taxes

    31

    37

    36

    +5

    -1

    Reduce Medicare benefits

    12

    10

    9

    -3

    -1

    Reduce Social Security benefits

    10

    10

    8

    -2

    -2

    None of the above

    17

    14

    16

    -1

    +2

    Note: Multiple responses allowed

     

    Methodology

    This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between February 12 to 17, 2014 among 2,266 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

    All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words margin of error as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

    Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

    These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

    The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

    Product and brand names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.

    The Harris Poll¨ #22, March 5, 2014

    By Larry Shannon-Missal, Harris Poll Research Manager

    About Nielsen & The Harris Poll

    On February 3, 2014, Nielsen acquired Harris Interactive and The Harris Poll. Nielsen Holdings N.V. (NYSE: NLSN) is a global information and measurement company with leading market positions in marketing and consumer information, television and other media measurement, online intelligence and mobile measurement. Nielsen has a presence in approximately 100 countries, with headquarters in New York, USA and Diemen, the Netherlands. For more information, visit www.nielsen.com.