Yesterday, the Huffington Post unearthed video from last year of Vice Presidential nominee Paul Ryan echoing Mitt Romney’s now-infamous comment about the “47 percent.’ Ryan raised the specter of an America going over the moral tipping point to become a country “of takers, not makers,” then declared that 30 percent of Americans don’t believe in the American dream:
Today, 70 percent of Americans get more benefits from the federal government in dollar value than they pay back in taxes. So you could argue that we’re already past that [moral] tipping point. The good news is survey after survey, poll after poll, still shows that we are a center-right 70-30 country. Seventy percent of Americans want the American dream. They believe in the American idea. Only 30 percent want their welfare state.
It’s not clear what surveys Ryan is referring to. To the extent that he has a case, it appears to be “a loose pastiche of factual misstatements and illogic,” as New York Magazine’s Jonathan Chait put it. After all, a poll by the Pew Research Center in July of 2011 found large majorities opposed to benefit cuts for Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.
Another poll by Gallup in January of 2011 found majorities from 52 to 67 percent opposing cuts in education, Social Security, Medicare, anti-poverty programs, and even arts and science funding. And a year before that, a joint poll by The Economist and YouGov asked voters about aid to the poor and unemployment benefits, as well as Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security again. Support for cuts in any of these areas didn’t even crack 20 percent.
It’s true that Americans tend to be skeptical of government spending in the abstract, and prefer amorphous “spending cuts” to “tax hikes.” But when asked about concrete programs serving concrete needs their refusal to trim the social safety net is striking. Romney and Ryan’s proposed budgets, meanwhile, would slash Medicaid by a third over the next decade, could substantially increase what seniors pay for their health care, and would decimate welfare programs such as food stamps, unemployment benefits, assistance to needy families, and education.