A few weeks ago, French President Emmanuel Macron sidestepped Parliament to unilaterally bump up the retirement age in France from 62 to 64, sparking protests, civil unrest, and labor strikes that left Paris smellier than the Great Camembert Explosion of 1743.
In our own neck of the woods, retiree benefits like Social Security and Medicare have their necks in the guillotine as the national debt limit deadline looms and the GOP-controlled House vows to balance the budget. Yet Americans largely hold favorable views of the program, and (despite the Parisian issue) it’s hardly a partisan issue. And for good reason! The connection between Social Security and birthday checks from Grandma is undeniable.
Overall, Americans’ views of Social Security are net favorable (+43%). That's a level of popularity usually reserved for the likes of ice cream, laughter, and tacos. What’s more, virtually all demographic segments of America have positive feelings toward the entitlement program, including massive popularity among Americans 65 and older (+82%) and retirees (+74%).
Even Democrats and Republicans reach across the aisle to shake hands (+60% and +36%, respectively) on the issue of Social Security, if only because they’re forced to—like at the end of a house league soccer game (whose parents are bringing the post-game Capri Suns?).
So, if everyone loves Social Security, what’s the big deal? For one, it’s the single largest expenditure in the federal budget, accounting for roughly one-fifth of annual federal spending. So do Americans believe in its longevity or that it’s destined for extinction, like normal weather patterns, a fundamental right to privacy, and magic eye posters at the orthodontist? We designed a list experiment to find out!
Even though only 16% of Americans publicly agree that the only way to ensure the long-term health of Social Security is to reduce benefits or increase the retirement age, a whopping 65% of Americans agree with the same statement privately.
In spite of the apparent overwhelming popularity of Social Security and Americans’ public insistence that “she’s gonna make it,” a majority of Americans actually believe the doctors need to call in the proverbial crash cart to keep Social Security alive. You want the truth?
Maybe Macron was onto something when he forced the French to bite the bullet (or is it "await the guillotine?").