Politics and Public Opinion

Worrying Signals from Conservative Voters on Defense and Entitlements

When I saw the CBS 60 Minutes-Vanity Fair poll last week saying most Americans favored taxing the rich to fix the deficit, I thought, “Well, that figures.” The 61 percent who favor taxing the rich and 20 percent who favor cutting defense reflect the views of people who follow those media sources. I wasn’t too concerned that only 4 percent selected cutting Medicare and 3 percent cutting Social Security.

But when we surveyed our panel of self-identified conservative Republicans in our weekly ConservativeHome grassroots poll just after the CBS poll, the results concerned me much more, for two main reasons:

1. Fifty-six percent of respondents favor across-the-board spending cuts as the main way to fix the deficit, compared to 27 percent who favor cutting all federal budgets except the military.

2. Only 3 percent of respondents favored reforming Social Security and Medicare.

These are respondents who, if previous poll results tell us anything, are quite conservative in every way.

So, even though Tea Party fever has been widespread and one would expect some to favor cutting defense, the fact that respondents prefer cutting spending that includes the military at a rate of 2-to-1 was a shock.

In addition, low support for entitlement reform shows that the Paul Ryan “Roadmap” message hasn’t exactly penetrated the grassroots. It may be that our poll just reflects what Rasmussen found in December, namely that Americans prioritize spending cuts over deficit reduction right now.

But I suspect, in our poll’s case, this has more to do with how little conservatives at the grassroots, like most Americans, understand the role of entitlements in fueling our deficit. Many would be surprised to learn that lawmakers can’t touch over two-thirds of the federal budget without reforming the programs.

This raises a question about how eager Republicans (other than Ryan and the small group of co-sponsors to his bill) are to spend much time explaining the issue to constituents, but that’s another matter.

A good bit of news is this: unlike those CBS polled, who favor defense cuts and increasing taxes on the rich to save the nation, only 2 percent of conservative voters in our poll favor those options.

Ryan Streeter is editor of www.conservativehome.com.

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