How Americans evaluate Social Security, Medicare, and six other entitlement programs

Linley SandersData Journalist
February 08, 2023, 3:39 PM GMT+0

American entitlement programs are generally popular — and vulnerable to cuts. Majorities of Americans have favorable views of many of the country's entitlement programs that are designed to help people who face financial hardship, but such initiatives also make up almost half of the federal budget. The high cost often puts them on the chopping block when Congress needs to consider budget cuts.

A new YouGov poll of 1,000 Americans asked people about eight entitlement programs: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, unemployment benefits, SNAP benefits, WIC benefits, Supplemental Security Income, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. The poll shows that many of these programs are popular with Republicans and Democrats alike — with starker partisan division about funding and what it takes to qualify for the programs.

How Americans view Social Security and Medicare

Social Security and Medicare — which primarily benefit older Americans — are among the most popular entitlement programs of the eight that YouGov asked about. Democrats and Republicans both view each of them more favorably than not. Each program is especially liked by older Americans, who are closer to the age of receiving benefits. About nine in 10 Americans (89%) who personally receive Social Security benefits have a very or somewhat favorable opinion of the program. Nearly as many of the people who currently have Medicare benefits (84%) have a positive view of it.

A majority of Americans (57%) say Social Security should be given more funding (it's primarily funded by a payroll tax). One in five (21%) want its funding to remain at current levels, and just 11% want its funding reduced (7%) or eliminated (4%). For Medicare, 53% of Americans say it deserves a greater allocation of funds, and 23% want its finances to remain stable. Another 13% want its funding reduced (8%) or cut entirely (5%).

Republicans and Democrats slightly differ on this: 66% of Democrats want Social Security to receive more funding, as do 54% of Republicans. There is a wider gap on Medicare funding: 64% of Democrats want to increase funding, compared to 47% of Republicans.

Recent data from The Economist/YouGov Poll shows that a proposal being considered by House Republicans to cut funding for Social Security and Medicare programs would not be supported by majorities of Americans nor Republicans. Former President Donald Trump, a Republican, also has warned Republicans in Congress against cutting even "a single penny from Medicare or Social Security."

How Americans view Medicaid

Seven in 10 Americans have a positive opinion of Medicaid — a program that provides health coverage to qualified low-income or disabled people. It's especially well-regarded by people who personally receive Medicaid assistance (78%). Majorities of Democrats (81%) and Republicans (64%) have a positive view of Medicaid, but there is division on the question of funding: Most Democrats (56%) would increase the money allocated to the program, twice the proportion of Republicans (29%).

A person's Medicaid eligibility can be determined by their state government, and some states have implemented work requirements in order to receive health coverage. Two-thirds of Americans (68%) say that people who receive assistance from welfare programs in the U.S. should be required to work or participate in job training programs if they are able to. Republicans (83%) are more likely than Democrats (64%) and Independents (61%) to say work participation should be required.

While Medicaid is seen more favorably than not, just 43% say it should be given more funding. Three in 10 Americans (29%) want its funding to remain at the same level, and 10% say it should be reduced; 5% would prefer to see the program eliminated entirely.

How Americans view SNAP benefits

Two-thirds of Americans (67%) have a favorable view of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) program, which supplements the food budget of low-income people and families, and is also known as food stamps. As with other programs, it's significantly more popular among people who personally receive benefits from it, with 86% of recipients saying they have a positive view of it. SNAP is viewed more favorably among Democrats (78%) than among Republicans (67%) and Independents (59%).

People must fall into certain income brackets to qualify for SNAP benefits. While there have previously been efforts in Congress to eliminate payments to people earning above the federal poverty threshold, Americans are divided on whether eligibility requirements should be made stricter (29%), made less strict (27%), or remain unchanged (29%).

When it comes to funding, 40% of Americans believe that SNAP — which is funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture — should receive additional resources. Democrats (55%) are twice as likely as Republicans (27%) to support increased financing for the program.

Nationally, there is a similar level of support for increasing funding for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (40% want to increase it). Funding increases are less popular for Supplemental Security Income (38%), Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (33%), and unemployment compensation (30%).

— Carl Bialik and Taylor Orth contributed to this article

See the results for this YouGov poll conducted on January 5 - 9, 2023

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Methodology: This poll was conducted online on January 5 - 9, 2023 among 1,000 U.S. adult citizens. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel using sample matching. A random sample (stratified by gender, age, race, education, geographic region, and voter registration) was selected from the 2019 American Community Survey. The sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, education, 2020 election turnout and presidential vote, baseline party identification, and current voter registration status. Demographic weighting targets come from the 2019 American Community Survey. Baseline party identification is the respondent’s most recent answer given prior to March 15, 2022, and is weighted to the estimated distribution at that time (33% Democratic, 28% Republican). The margin of error for the overall sample is approximately 4%.

Image: Adobe Stock (fizkes)