The record generation gap evident in the last two presidential elections is echoed by large differences by age in attitudes about the tradeoff between reducing the federal deficit and preserving entitlements for older adults.
A majority of Americans, both Democrat and Republican, have received government benefits from one of the six best-known federal entitlement programs.
When the national conversation focuses on class, the social safety net and the distribution of wealth as it has in the past week, the public sees clear differences between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, and Obama has an overall advantage.
A proposal to shift Medicare to a voucher system, part of a Paul Ryan plan approved by the House last year, remains unpopular. Both Ryan and Democrat Joe Biden get negative marks as vice presidential candidates.
Older Americans are warier of changes to Medicare than are younger people. They are more positive about the way the program operates, less apt to think that changes are needed and far less disposed towards Paul Ryan’s proposal to reshape Medicare.
Pew Research Center President Andrew Kohut writes that there has never been an issue such as the deficit on which there has been such a consensus among the public about its importance -- and such a lack of agreement about acceptable solutions.
Americans values and basic beliefs are more polarized along partisan lines than at any point in the past 25 years. Party has now become the single largest fissure in American society, with the values gap between Republicans and Democrats greater than gender, age, race or class divides.