Judy explained the difference between Social Security and welfare. “Direct welfare programs are strictly tax supported,” he said. “Social Security is participant supported.”

Judy knew he had participated and had made his contributions all these years. When he turned sixty-two, he took his early retirement benefit—about $1100 a month. Why, I asked? “I could probably live without it,” he told me. “But I figured I may not recoup all my benefits so I said why not.” He went on. “Social Security is a contract with the government, and you’re entitled to it. I paid in and might as well draw it out.”

The conversation about taking early retirement benefits inevitably led to the singular question in the national discussion. Should the age at which someone receives full retirement benefits increase from sixty-seven to seventy? Judy did not think so. “It goes against my conservative beliefs,” he told me. He said while it might be a realistic solution, Social Security is a contract with an individual and should not be broken. “It’s a violation of the original contract. I should get what the system was set up to give me. If they want to change the rules, let them apply to new people coming into the system.”
Judy also understood that making someone wait longer for full benefits might hurt some people financially. “It’s going to be tough going. It’s going to be a hard pill to swallow.”

A new survey (pdf) released at the end of last week shows that Judy’s beliefs about raising the retirement age are in step with other Americans’ beliefs. When it came to raising the retirement age for Social Security, 65 percent of voters said no. The poll by Stan Greenberg and colleagues, commissioned by the Campaign for America’s future and Democracy Corps with support from MoveOn.org and the SEIU, found that while voters believed reducing the deficit is important, 68 percent said they would oppose major spending cuts in both Social Security and Medicare to reduce it; 28 percent said they were in favor of cuts. The pollsters said that number included 61 percent of Republicans and 56 percent of independents.

Trudy Lieberman is a fellow at the Center for Advancing Health and a longtime contributing editor to the Columbia Journalism Review. She is the lead writer for The Second Opinion, CJR’s healthcare desk, which is part of our United States Project on the coverage of politics and policy. Follow her on Twitter @Trudy_Lieberman.