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47% See Major Changes in Defense, Social Security, Medicare As Necessary to Big Budget Cuts, 36% Don’t


Most voters know they want to cut government spending in a serious way, but despite the ongoing national budget-cutting debate, they don't seem to recognize what that's going to take.

The majority of U.S. federal spending is allotted to national defense, Social Security and Medicare. The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey shows that just 47% of Likely U.S. Voters correctly recognize that it is necessary to make major changes in those areas to make truly significant long-term cuts in government spending. Thirty-six percent (36%) don't believe big changes in these three areas are needed, while another 17% aren't sure. (To see survey question wording, click here.)

This marks virtually no change from early April but shows increased voter awareness from February of last year.

The most high-profile plan for changing Medicare that's currently on the table is the one proposed by Republican Congressman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin. That plan, which includes allowing individuals to purchase private health insurance as an alternative and raising the eligibility age from 65 to 67, has been denounced by most Democrats and even has drawn the criticism of Republican presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich.

But despite the attention politicians and pundits are giving Ryan's plan, public views of it are virtually unchanged from late last month. Twenty-six percent (26%) of voters continue to favor Ryan's budget proposal, while 34% are opposed to it. The plurality (40%) is not sure what they think of the plan.

Also unchanged from the previous survey is the finding that 64% of voters are following at least somewhat closely news reports about Ryan's plan to cut $4 trillion in spending over the next decade. This includes just 25% who are following Very Closely. By comparison, 80% are following recent news events in Libya at least somewhat closely.

Republicans are following news about Ryan's plan only slightly more than Democrats and voters not affiliated with either of the major parties. But 47% of GOP voters favor the plan, while 52% of Democrats oppose it. Among unaffiliateds, a plurality (43%) is undecided.

However, 55% of unaffiliated voters and 51% of Republicans understand that major changes in defense, Social Security and Medicare will be necessary to make truly significant long-term spending cuts. Forty-nine percent (49%) of voters in President Obama's party don't believe major changes in those areas will be needed.

Similarly, 50% of Mainstream voters recognize that big changes in defense, Social Security and Medicare will be needed to make serious long-term cuts in federal spending, but 56% of those in the Political Class don't see it that way.

Fifty-six percent (56%) of the Political Class also oppose Ryan's plan, while Mainstream voters are narrowly divided over it with the plurality (41%) undecided.

Part of the skepticism about Ryan's plan may stem from the fact that voters routinely vote for politicians who promise to cut taxes and spending, but 60% realize that government spending in America has gone up every single year since 1954.

Sixty-five percent (65%) of voters say the president and congressional Republicans are unlikely to reach an agreement to significantly cut long-term government spending trends before the 2012 elections.

Just 30% think it is at least somewhat likely that the federal budget will be balanced for even a single year during their lifetimes. 

The majority of voters continue to say as they have in surveys for years that cutting taxes and reducing government spending are best for the economy. Most voters also want a government that offers fewer services and lower taxes.

But 68% of voters feel any proposed changes to Medicare and Social Security should be approved by a vote of the American people.

Rasmussen Reports is an electronic media company specializing in the collection, publication and distribution of public opinion polling information.  We poll on a variety of topics in the fields of politics, business and lifestyle, updating our site's content on a news cycle throughout the day, everyday.

Rasmussen Reports Platinum Members get an all-access pass to polling news, analysis and insight not available to the general public.

Scott Rasmussen , president of Rasmussen Reports, has been an independent pollster for more than a decade. To learn more about our methodology, click here.

The survey of 1,000 Likely Voters was conducted on May 21-22, 2011 by Rasmussen Reports. The margin of sampling error is +/- 3 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence. Field work for all Rasmussen Reports surveys is conducted by Pulse Opinion Research, LLC. See methodology.

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©2011 Rasmussen Reports, LLC
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