In today's Washington Times, Reason-Rupe Polling Director Emily Ekins examines a path towards entitlement reform:
..the poll then asked respondents who oppose reform if they would be open to reductions in their Social Security and Medicare benefits if they were still guaranteed to receive at least the amount of money they have contributed to the system. Suddenly, 61 percent of Americans were open to accepting reductions in Social Security and 59 percent were willing to agree to Medicare cuts.
And the willingness to agree to entitlement reforms, if people get back what they've paid into the system, was consistent across all groups: 65 percent of Tea Party supporters and Republicans were open to cuts, along with 61 percent of independents and 60 percent of Democrats.
…support for Social Security and Medicare is largely driven by the "contributive" element. Americans simply want to recoup the money they contribute to the system. They just want their money back. If policymakers can communicate that entitlement reform will not rip off contributions, they may be able to garner enough public support for meaningful reforms.
We see the same concept at work when Americans are asked about letting people opt out of paying for Social Security and Medicare. The Reason-Rupe poll found 54 percent of Americans favor allowing workers to opt out of Social Security if they choose to rely on their own retirement savings. And 56 percent would let workers opt out of Medicare if they want to pay for their own health care in retirement.
Americans aren't unreasonable. After seeing money leave their paychecks and pour into Social Security and Medicare, they don't want benefit cuts to those programs because they think they've explicitly paid for those benefits. But tell them they'll get all of their money back or that they can opt out and pay for it themselves, and they are open to fixing the third rail of politics. If politicians can muster the courage to take on entitlements, they'll find taxpayers are ready and waiting for them.