Organized labor and progressive activists have been ramping up their warnings against major entitlement cuts as part of a budget deal. That, in turn, has prompted centrist deficit hawks to go on the defensive, arguing that there's far more appetite among ordinary voters for cuts to Medicare, Social Security, and other entitlement programs than the party's liberal base would like to believe.


Third Way has released a new post-election poll showing that the vast majority of 800 Obama voters (83 percent) want deficit reduction to be a priority. The poll also showed that the majority (53 percent) thought that Social Security and Medicare were in "major" financial trouble. And 79 percent of Obama voters would prefer that "the President and Congress make changes to fix Social Security and Medicare," rather than do nothing. 

Jim Kessler of the Third Way believes the poll upends the notion on the left that it would be a "betrayal" to touch entitlements. "According to this poll, these groups do not speak for the people who elected the President," Kessler says. 

But does that mean that Obama voters would be willing to accept the tough cuts to entitlements, and to make that a priority for the new year? Not necessarily. Polls have repeatedly shown that voters want to restrain spending but balk when it comes to benefit cuts to popular entitlement programs.

Like the Third Way, Kaiser/Washington Post poll from September showed that the vast majority of voters in three key swing states — Florida, Ohio, and Virginia — want changes to be made to Medicare to make the program more sustainable. But most of these voters also want to "maintain the current system of benefits" and believed that lawmakers can reduce the deficit without touching Medicare spending. 

So while Obama supporters may support "fixing" entitlement programs in the abstract to improve their finances, that doesn't necessarily mean they'll support the proposals that lawmakers have put forward to do that, most of which entail spending cuts, benefit reductions, and raising the qualifying age for entitlements. And it will take more detailed polling to determine where public opinion really is on the issue.