There are many clear differences between Republicans and Democrats this election season, one of which is their feelings about retirement. In a variety of recent surveys, members of each political party expressed contrasting views about how retirement should be paid for and the future of entitlements. Here's a look at how Democrats and Republicans differ in their perceptions of retirement:
Responsibility for funding retirement. Republicans (56 percent) are more likely than Democrats (42 percent) to say the responsibility for retirement finances rests largely with individuals, according to a recent Wells Fargo and Harris Interactive survey of 1,000 middle-class Americans. Democrats were more likely than Republicans to report that employers and the government should also play a role in funding retirement. "Most middle-class Americans are waking up to the fact that I own and control and am responsible for my own retirement," says Joseph Ready, executive vice president of Wells Fargo Institutional Retirement and Trust.
401(k)s. Democrats are more likely than Republicans to think employers should play a bigger role in helping employees save and invest for retirement. More Democrats (86 percent) than Republicans (67 percent) say employers should provide personal advice to help employees manage their retirement savings. Democrats are also more likely to say companies should automatically enroll employees in 401(k) plans (77 percent) and automatically increase contribution rates by 1 percent each year (72 percent) than Republicans (55 percent and 56 percent, respectively), according to the Wells Fargo survey. "We see a generalization that these plans are confusing, but it sure would be nice to get some help," says Ready. "What's really great about these auto features is people can opt out of them."
Retirement saving. More Republicans (79 percent) between ages 55 and 65 say they started saving for retirement prior to age 50 than Democrats (69 percent), Independents (71 percent), or people without a political party preference (67 percent), according to an Allianz Life survey of 1,209 people approaching retirement. The survey also found that, among people within 10 years of age 65, 12 percent of Republicans, 19 percent of Democrats, 19 percent of Independents, and 23 percent of those with no party preference say they have not yet begun saving for retirement. The most popular decade to begin saving for retirement was the 30s, when 33 percent of Republicans and 28 percent of Democrats say they started to build a nest egg.
Politicized investing. The Allianz Life survey also found that 57 percent of the Republicans surveyed say they will change their retirement saving strategy if Barack Obama were to be reelected. The majority of Democrats, Independents, and people with no political preference said they would not change their retirement investment strategy based on the election results. "Politics is so polarizing right now," says Katie Libbe, vice president of Consumer Insights for Allianz Life. "Who knows if they would really change their strategy, but they said they would."
Social Security. An overwhelming majority of Americans (87 percent) of all political persuasions agree that Social Security has been good for the country, according to a 2011 Pew Research Center survey of 1,502 adults. Most Americans also say preventing future cuts to the program is more important than avoiding increases in Social Security taxes for workers and employers (56 percent to 33 percent). However, a greater proportion of Democrats (67 percent) prioritize avoiding benefit cuts than Independents (55 percent) and Republicans (49 percent). There is also a divide within the Republican party, with preserving benefits being much more important to low-income Republicans than affluent Republicans. Some 63 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents with family incomes of $75,000 or more say it is more important to take steps to reduce the budget deficit than to preserve entitlements. The majority of middle-income Republicans (53 percent) and Republicans with incomes of $30,000 or less (62 percent) prioritize maintaining entitlements over deficit reduction (53 percent). Democrats do not have a divide among income lines.
Medicare. Majorities of Republicans (53 percent), Democrats (72 percent), and Independents (58 percent) say people on Medicare already pay enough of the cost for their healthcare, the Pew Research Center found. But 41 percent of Republicans say recipients should pay more for Medicare benefits, compared with 32 percent of Independents and 23 percent of Democrats. Young and more affluent Republicans are more likely than Republicans overall to want to pass more of Medicare's costs on to retirees. In neither party does the majority of those surveyed favor changing Medicare into a program that offers future participants credits or vouchers toward purchasing private health-insurance coverage, but Republicans (46 percent) are much more likely to be in favor of this change than Democrats (28 percent) or Independents (34 percent).
[In Pictures: States with the Best Older Voter Turnout.]
Potential entitlement changes. The only Social Security tweak that gets support from a majority of Democrats (73 percent), Republicans (54 percent), and Independents (71 percent) is increasing the payroll tax cap. (Workers currently pay into the Social Security system only on earned income up to $110,100 in 2012.) Small majorities of Democrats and Independents, but not Republicans, support reducing Social Security benefits for high-income seniors, the Pew Research Center found. A majority of both parties disapprove of raising the retirement age at which people can claim Social Security benefits, but Republicans (41 percent) are more likely to be in favor of an older retirement age than Democrats (31 percent).