Entitlement Reform’s Popularity among Conservatives

By Ryan Streeter

Do you think the message is getting through to voters that entitlement reform is a critical part of long-term deficit reduction? If you answer “nope,” you’re right. Conservative voters—the ones who sent a large, fresh crop of Republicans to Washington to cut spending—still don’t quite get deficit control.

We maintain a panel of more than 2,500 self-identified conservative Republicans at ConservativeHome.com whom we poll each week. They provide a reliable guide to this issue. Our respondents are very conservative all around, and more than two-thirds support candidates by donating time or money or both. They are what you might call likely primary voters.

They have shown a zesty dislike of Washington’s spending habits, a high regard for tax cuts and free enterprise, and they pretty much hate ObamaCare. They appear to be enthusiastic consumers of Fox News and conservative talk radio, and most consider themselves middle-class Americans with a love for lower taxes and enterprise instead of class warfare.

So here’s what’s interesting. 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.

So this week we asked about two changes to the programs that would need to be part of any reasonable entitlement reform: raising the retirement age and means-testing. We asked if the group would support either or both. Here is how they replied:

• 35 percent said yes on both counts
• 26 percent said they were willing to receive fewer benefits if they were wealthy upon retirement, but weren’t willing to wait until they were 70 before receiving them
• 22 percent said they were unwilling on both counts
• 17 percent said they were willing to wait until 70 before receiving benefits, but not to receive fewer benefits if they were wealthy upon retirement

So barely over a third said yes to both. And more than one-fifth said no to both. Unlike other questions in our surveys about spending, ObamaCare and taxes, the responses are fairly evenly divided. Usually they are pretty lopsided. These aren’t exactly Tea Party-ish numbers. It appears that when it comes to my benefits, even the most conservative Republicans aren’t as radical as we might think.

There have been some rumblings this week about the division between the Rep. Paul Ryan camp that wants to push entitlement reform and the Rep. Eric Cantor camp that wants to be more tempered and hold off for awhile. The results from our polling suggest that the Ryan message, however much it has gotten through to the community of people who follow policy and not just politics, has not gotten through to the people who follow mainly politics but not policy.

Ryan Streeter is editor of www.conservativehome.com.