Americans Unhappy With Medicare, Social Security

by Coleen McMurray, Senior Staff Writer

"Our seniors deserve the best care America has to offer. What they do not deserve is another four years of broken promises and failed policies from George W. Bush," presumptive Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry said recently while campaigning in Florida. Bush, during his Feb. 8 appearance on NBC's Meet the Press, averred that Medicare will "…not only make the system work better for seniors but is going to help the fiscal situation of our long-term projection."

As both candidates are acutely aware, the issues of Social Security and Medicare are likely to be major concerns for voters this election year -- especially for the growing ranks of the nation's seniors. According to a January 2004 Gallup Poll*, nearly two-thirds (65%) of Americans are not satisfied with the current Social Security and Medicare systems (36% are "somewhat dissatisfied," 29% are "very dissatisfied"). Indeed, more Americans are dissatisfied with these systems now than shortly before Bush took office in 2001, despite forthcoming changes to the Medicare program signed into law by the president that will expand Medicare benefits.

Seniors (aged 65 and older), who have the most at stake when it comes to Social Security and Medicare, are more satisfied with the programs than younger adults (aged 18 to 64) are -- but they're still more likely to be dissatisfied than satisfied with the current state of Social Security and Medicare. Forty-five percent of those 65 and older are satisfied with Social Security and Medicare, while 53% are dissatisfied. Twenty-nine percent of those aged 18 to 64 are satisfied, while 67% are dissatisfied.

Extreme dissatisfaction with the Social Security and Medicare systems is strongly related to respondents' political party affiliations. Democrats are significantly more likely than Republicans to say that they are very dissatisfied with the state of the Social Security and Medicare systems in the nation -- 36% of Democrats are very dissatisfied, compared with 25% of Republicans. That difference moderates slightly when "somewhat dissatisfied" and "very dissatisfied" responses are combined: 69% of Democrats are generally dissatisfied with these systems, while 61% of Republicans are dissatisfied.

Bottom Line

The future of Social Security and Medicare will be a major focus of election debates in the months ahead, and a recent CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll** finds that Kerry enjoys a 19-point advantage over Bush on who "would better handle" the issue of healthcare. Also, changes to Medicare have received a cool reception from seniors and adults overall. A Jan. 2-5 poll*** found that half of Americans feel the newly enacted Medicare changes did not go far enough in improving the system (see "Medicare Changes Fall Short With Seniors" in Related Items).

With the first of the baby boomers set to retire in seven years, the issues of Medicare and Social Security will become increasingly significant, for the nation as a whole and for whomever is sitting in the Oval Office in the coming years.

*Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,004 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Jan. 12-15, 2004. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

**Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,005 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted March 5-7, 2004. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

***Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,029 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Jan. 2-5, 2004. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.


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