Hands off! (photo: AFL-CIO / Flickr)

While Americans claim to, in the abstract, care about the deficit, they overwhelmingly don’t want entitlement programs cut to reduce the deficit, according to the new Pew Research poll.

The public overwhelmingly regards Social Security as a program that has been good for the country, with 87% holding that view. More than three-quarters (77%) also share the concern that its financial condition is only fair or poor. But that’s where the consensus ends.

There is strong resistance to any cuts in entitlement programs in order to reduce the deficit, with 58% of Americans saying that to maintaining benefits as they are trumps deficit reduction, (35% favor taking steps to reduce the deficit). Nearly six-in-ten (59%) put a higher priority on avoiding any future cuts in benefit amounts than on avoiding Social Security tax increases for workers and employers, with 32% believing that avoiding tax increases is more important.

Agreement that Social Security benefits should be maintained at current levels even if it removes one way to cut the deficit is shared among all age groups. But beyond that consensus, there are generational divides on a host of issues.

Voters simply don’t want Social Security or Medicare cut. Raising taxes primarily on the rich and reducing military spending on needless wars are the few big deficit reduction ideas relatively acceptable to voters.

The idea that there is some great silent majority in the electorate who wants their representative to get “serious” on the deficit by cutting spending on popular government programs is a complete myth.