We have unique data from a 2008 national survey by the Cornell Survey Research Institute that asked Americans whether they had ever taken advantage of any of 21 social policies provided by the federal government, from student loans to Medicare. These policies do not include government activity that benefits everyone — national defense, the interstate highway system, food safety regulations — but only tangible benefits that accrue to specific households. [...]The authors were further able to make a distinction between direct benefits, like Social Security or the G.I. Bill, versus indirect or "submerged" social benefits like the homeowner mortgage interest deduction.
What the data reveal is striking: nearly all Americans — 96 percent — have relied on the federal government to assist them. Young adults, who are not yet eligible for many policies, account for most of the remaining 4 percent.
On average, people reported that they had used five social policies at some point in their lives.
Overall, 82 percent of Democrats and 64 percent of Republicans acknowledged receipt of at least one direct social benefit. More Republicans (92 percent) than Democrats (86 percent) had taken advantage of submerged policies.The obvious question becomes, then, why conservatives are insistent on condemning social programs that they themselves benefit from. The answer appears to be stupidity—sorry, I mean cognitive dissonance. Go figure.
Where Americans actually differ is in how they think about government’s role in their lives. A major driving factor here is ideology: conservatives were less likely than liberals to respond affirmatively when asked if they had ever used a “government social program,” even when both subsequently acknowledged using the same number of specific policies.You might chalk this up to a theoretical conservative bias towards presuming that the social programs they use are not actually social programs, e.g. when a conservative means "government help" they mean unemployment insurance or food stamps, not the G.I. Bill or family-friendly tax credits. That may be giving too much credit: While Chris Christie noting his father's use of the G.I. Bill while condemning all the other little people who are provided similar assistance is indeed a lovely example of the phenomenon, I'm not sure anything can top the famous statement on the subject by American philosopher Craig T. Nelson:
"I've been on food stamps and welfare, did anybody help me out? No."Ah. True genius, there. The very picture of a self-made man.
All of this does lead to the obvious question, though: Do Americans really want these things cut? Mitt Romney puts the percentage of moochers in America at 47 percent, since obviously measuring income tax is the only possible measure for such things, but the true number is, apparently, much closer to 100 percent. While not giving George Romney welfare upon his immigration to this country might possibly have saved us from ever having to hear from his droning, self-entitled son, we nevertheless have decided on a rough social compact in which we spend a portion of our taxes on programs to ensure people like George Romney and Craig T. Nelson can, with enough effort, make something of themselves someday. We have decided that risking your life for your country ought to perhaps get you something in return, and that having people dying in the streets for lack of food or medicine is probably unsanitary, if nothing else.
So how do we convince conservatives to support the very programs they, like all of the rest of the country, benefit from? Logic is right out, we know that much. Perhaps a catchy song would help things?