The New York Times/CBS poll released this morning is in interesting ways similar, and in interesting ways different, to the Washington Post/ABC News poll released earlier in the week. For consistency’s sake, I should lead with the question on Paul Ryan’s Medicare plan, which polls far better in this survey than it did in ours. “To reduce the budget deficit,” the poll says, “it has been proposed that Medicare should be changed from a program in which the government pays doctors and hospitals for treating seniors to a program in which the government helps seniors purchase private health insurance.” Under this description, 47 percent approve of the plan while only 41 percent disapprove of it. That’s a big switch from our result, which showed 65 percent disapproval, and 84 percent when people heard — correctly — that the premiums were expected to outpace the checks.
Looking at the rest of the NYT/CBS poll, however, my hunch is we’ve got this one right. Asked whether they’d prefer to reduce Medicare benefits or raise Medicare taxes, 56 percent preferred raising taxes, while only 28 percent wanted to reduce benefits (the rest didn’t know). More than 60 percent think Medicare’s benefits are worth its costs, and when asked whether, if they absolutely had to make cuts, they’d make them to Medicare, Social Security or the military, twice as many people chose the military as chose Social Security or Medicare. Almost three-quarters approve of raising taxes on income over $250,000 a year, and it’s more popular to balance the budget with tax increases and spending cuts or with just tax increases than with spending cuts alone. What’s not popular, of course, is raising taxes on people who aren’t rich.
The real takeaway from these polls is that the only two approaches to deficit reduction that are even close to popular are taxes on the rich (so popular!) and defense cuts (much more popular than you’d think given how terrified politicians are of them). Everything else polls pretty badly, though lots of other things will obviously have to be part of the solution. In the end, however, I suspect that how well a deficit-reduction package polls will have a lot more to do with how much cover the two parties give one another than what’s actually in it. A calm process that ends in bipartisan agreement will poll well, whereas a nightmare hostage negotiation where the two parties are going to war and the market is beginning to shake will not.