Politics

Americans See Medicare, Social Security "Crisis" Within 10 Years

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Republicans more likely to describe programs' costs as crisis

PRINCETON, NJ -- Two out of three Americans (67%) believe Social Security and Medicare costs are already creating a crisis for the federal government (34%) or will do so within 10 years (33%). The vast majority believe the programs will create a crisis at some point, with 7% believing the programs' costs will not create a crisis for the foreseeable future.

How long do you think it will be until the costs of the Medicare and Social Security programs create a crisis for the federal government -- are they already creating a crisis, will they create a crisis within the next 10 years, within 10 to 20 years, in more than 20 years, or not for the foreseeable future? April 2011

These results are based on an April 20-23 USA Today/Gallup poll that asked Americans what they see as the major cause of the deficit and which approach they favor for addressing the problem.

Because Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security make up a huge portion of the federal budget, it will be difficult to significantly reduce the deficit without addressing their costs. High healthcare inflation and a growing number of senior citizens in the population have helped increase costs. Americans largely seem to recognize that the costs of these programs are going to have a significant impact on federal spending and on the government's ability to address other priorities within the next decade.

Republicans (76%) are significantly more likely than Democrats (54%) to believe the programs' costs are already creating a crisis or will do so within 10 years. Independents' views are more closely aligned with Republicans' on this matter.

April 2011: How Long Until Social Security and Medicare Create Crisis for Federal Government, by Political Party Affiliation

Seniors -- the primary current beneficiaries of Social Security and Medicare -- are least likely among age groups to see a near-term crisis from those programs. Fifty-seven percent of seniors believe the programs' costs will create a crisis for the U.S. within 10 years or are already doing so, compared with roughly two-thirds or more of other age groups. The lower level of concern among seniors could reflect that they currently receive benefits under the programs and see them as "working," and thus not in a crisis. It could also reflect the fact that most proposals to change Social Security and Medicare exempt those who are now aged 55 or older, meaning these will likely not affect their own situations.

April 2011: How Long Until Social Security and Medicare Create Crisis for Federal Government, by Age

Americans Do Not Necessarily Want Drastic Action to Address Crisis

The poll did not ask Americans what types of actions the government should take to deal with the looming crisis in entitlement programs. But results of another recent USA Today/Gallup poll suggest that Americans may not necessarily want the government to take drastic action even if they do believe the programs are creating or soon will create a crisis. That poll, conducted April 11, found Americans in general opposed to a complete overhaul or major changes to Medicare, with 27% saying the government should not try to control Medicare costs and 34% supporting minor changes to the program.

These conflicting views underscore the challenges for the government in addressing the costs of entitlement programs in a politically viable way.

Survey Methods

Results for this USA Today/Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted April 20-23, 2011, with a random sample of 1,013 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents for gender within region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2010 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

View methodology, full question results, and trend data.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.

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