It’s a source of constant puzzlement on the left: Why are the White House and Dems signaling in advance that they’re open to unspecified changes in entitlements — seemingly weakening their negotiating position in advance — when polls show strong opposition across the board to cuts in Medicare and Social Security?

Some new Gallup polling suggests the answer: While strong majorities do oppose cutting those programs, strong majorities also buy into the ”crisis” narrative that we’re all in deep trouble if something isn’t done on entitlements.

USA Today published a few numbers this morning from the Gallup poll, which is due out tomorrow, but Gallup sent me an early look at the details. There’s this striking finding:

Are you worried or not worried that the Republican plan for reducing the federal budget deficit in the long-term would --

Cut Medicare too much? Worried: 66; Not worried: 31

Cut Social Security too much? Worried: 65; Not worried: 33

Take away needed protections for the poor and disadvantaged: Worried: 64; Not worried: 34

Protect the rich at the expense of everyone else: Worried: 64; Not worried: 35

In every case, nearly two thirds buy the Dem message about GOP intentions towards entitlements. But at the same time, the poll also finds:

How long do you think it will be until the costs of the Medicare and Social Security programs create a crisis for the federal government -- are they already creating a crisis, will they create a crisis within the next 10 years, within 10 to 20 years, in more than 20 years, or not for the foreseeable future?

Already creating a crisis: 34

Within ten years: 33

Within 10-20 years: 19

More than 20 years: 4

Not for the foreseeable future: 7

A whopping 67 percent think that Medicare and Social Security are on track to creating a crisis within 10 years.

The Dem strategy is all about threading the needle here — nodding to the public’s sense that the current course on entitlements is unsustainable, while aggressively defending the programs against the GOP’s drive to fundamentally remake them, which the public fears and dislikes. The left’s response is that signaling openness at the outset to changes in the programs weakens the Dems’ hand in negotiations, and there’s certainly something to that. But Dems appear to believe they can’t let the GOP capture any moral high ground by being perceived as the only party that agrees with the public’s view that we have a major problem here that needs fixing.