Florida Republican voters have a clear feeling about cuts to Medicare and Social Security: Don’t do it, according to a new poll by the AARP.
By wide margins, the survey shows that likely Republican voters of all kinds – whether they’re in the tea party, Hispanic or moderates -- would rather fix the nation’s budget by withdrawing the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, eliminating foreign aid or eliminating so-called tax “loopholes.”
But despite these sentiments of GOP voters, many of the Republican frontrunners for president are more likely to support trimming benefits than raising tax revenues or getting out of foreign entanglements.
“There’s a major disconnect between what the candidates and other folks in Washington want and what the voters think when it comes to Social Security and Medicare,” said Jeff Johnson, AARP’s interim Florida director.
For the candidates and lawmakers, Social Security is a budget problem we need to fix the math on. Medicare is a budget problem we need to fix math on,” Johnson said. “But this isn’t about math for voters. This is about voters’ retirement.”
The issues are particularly important in Florida, which has the largest number of retirees in the nation. The poll shows that 60 percent of the Republican primary voters in Florida are retired, and that 87 percent say Social Security benefits are or will be important to their retirement. Nearly 45 percent say they rely on Medicare for health insurance.
What's unclear is how much of a politically toxic issue these cuts would be. After all, Marco Rubio advocated raising the retirement age for future Social Security recipients, and he was handily chosen to be the Republican Party's standard bearer before he won the general election last year in the United States senate race.
The results of the 500-person Florida poll, conducted by Idaho-based GS Strategy Group, mirrors surveys taken in other states. When it comes to voters’ picks for presidential candidates, it also resembles a Quinnipiac University Florida survey, also released Thursday.
This poll shows that Mitt Romney is the favorite, garnering 31 percent of the vote, with Herman Cain statistically tying him with 29 percent. Newt Gingrich is in third with 12 percent.
The candidates could dispute the results of the poll, however, because they have said their efforts to reform Medicare and Social Security are designed to protect the programs for future generations.
But even modest changes to benefits for future retirees are opposed by 66 percent of voters, the poll shows. Only 27 percent favor future reductions, which could include raising the retirement age – though the poll didn’t specifically address that issue.
Asked if they favored or opposed reducing Medicare benefits to help reduce the deficit, only 22 percent liked the idea. About 70 percent didn’t.
When given predetermined choices to cut the deficit, most voters wanted to “eliminate tax loopholes (40 percent), cut foreign aid (34 percent) or reduce involvement in foreign wars (18 percent).
The poll didn’t specify what the “tax loopholes” would be, however. Some loopholes are popular, such as a mortgage write-off for homeowner, and changing those tax-entitlements could also prove unpopular. Voters weren't specifically asked if they'd prefer to raise taxes.
Still, numerous other national and state surveys have shown that Republicans favor increasing some taxes to pay down the deficit.
When specifically asked if they favored Medicare cuts to withdrawing troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, only 9 percent wanted the former and 66 percent favored the latter. The numbers were similar for Social Security.
The poll also reflects an irony, of sorts, with voters: The candidates who most want to withdraw from foreign wars, Jon Huntsman and Ron Paul, were among the least likely to be favored by voters.