- 45% of Americans are satisfied with Social Security and Medicare systems
- The programs rank in top third of U.S. issues in public contentment
- Seniors far more satisfied than middle-aged and younger adults
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Although a middling 45% of Americans are satisfied with the Social Security and Medicare systems, the programs still earn one of the better satisfaction scores in Gallup’s 2023 rating of issues facing the country. The programs rank sixth out of 22 policy areas rated this year, with the military leading the list at 64%. The quality of the environment (with 44% satisfied) roughly ties Social Security and Medicare, while 15 issues are rated worse.
The latest results are from Gallup’s Mood of the Nation survey, conducted Jan. 2-22, 2023. Gallup previously reported these policy ratings ahead of President Joe Biden’s State of the Union address to Congress on Feb. 7, to provide Americans’ perspective on the country’s condition.
This analysis focuses on Americans’ satisfaction with the Social Security and Medicare systems, specifically.
Satisfaction With Retirement Programs Elevated in Most Years Since 2017
Gallup has measured Americans’ satisfaction with Social Security and Medicare in January of most years since 2001, finding between 31% and 47% of U.S. adults “very” or “somewhat” satisfied with these safety net programs that play an important role in the financial security of U.S. seniors.
The lowest satisfaction ratings for Social Security and Medicare were recorded between 2003 and 2012, likely reflecting public concern at that time about the financial stability of the Social Security system. During this period, Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama each formed commissions to study the feasibility of revamping Social Security to ensure its long-term solvency and, in Bush’s case, briefly made it his top domestic priority. Ultimately, neither president succeeded in bringing about major policy changes.
While not high in absolute terms, public satisfaction with Social Security/Medicare was highest in 2017 (47%) and has been above 40% every year since -- except last year, when it dipped to 38%.
Seniors Are Most Satisfied With Safety Net Programs, Followed by Democrats
Consistent with prior years, older Americans, the primary beneficiaries of Social Security and Medicare, are much more likely than younger adults to express satisfaction with these programs. This year, 63% of adults 65 and older say they are satisfied with the programs, compared with 43% of those 50 to 64, 42% of those 30 to 49 and 35% of those 18 to 29.
Lower- and middle-income adults are modestly more likely to be satisfied with Social Security and Medicare than upper-income adults.
Partisan differences in satisfaction with Social Security and Medicare have changed over the course of Gallup’s trend, conforming with the typical pattern whereby supporters of the sitting president’s party are more satisfied with national conditions than supporters of the opposing party. However, the party gap on Social Security/Medicare is not as wide as is seen on other issues.
Currently, 52% of Democrats, 45% of independents and 39% of Republicans are satisfied with the programs.
Social Security Not a Major Policy Concern to Americans
In addition to being more satisfied with Social Security and Medicare than with most other policy areas of the country, Americans have been less worried in recent years about the Social Security system than about other issues.
Each March, Gallup asks Americans whether they worry a great deal, a fair amount, a little or not at all about more than a dozen issues facing the country. Last year, 40% said they worried a great deal about Social Security (and a combined 71% were worried a great deal or a fair amount). Either way, it ranked in the bottom half of Americans’ worry list, well below inflation, crime, and hunger, among other issues.
For decades, policymakers have warned that the Social Security trust fund is becoming depleted as a shrinking percentage of Americans pay into it, while more money flows out to a growing number of retirees. The Congressional Budget Office recently revised its estimate of the last year Social Security will be able to meet its full obligations to recipients, moving it up a year to 2032. And yet, with the issue on the political back burner during the pandemic and for several years before that, Americans are more content with the system today than they were in the early 2000s.
Such contentment is what makes fixing Social Security so difficult, as any discussion of curbing or delaying retiree benefits means diminishing a program Americans generally like. One solution that sidesteps this is having wealthy Americans plug the financial hole by raising their taxes, lowering their benefits or both. But that presents its own political minefield.
Any discussion of trimming entitlement benefits could ignite a political firestorm such as the one that erupted after President Joe Biden said in his State of the Union address that some Republicans want to "sunset" Social Security and Medicare, something the target of his statement has vigorously denied.
Gallup’s forthcoming March survey will provide an update on how concerned Americans are about Social Security, indicating whether recent news of the trust fund and partisan clashes over the issue have caught the public’s attention.
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