CBS News Poll analysis by the CBS News Polling Unit: Sarah Dutton, Jennifer De Pinto, Fred Backus and Anthony Salvanto.
A new CBS News poll shows that Americans have mixed feelings about what should happen to Medicare: While 53 percent say the program needs fundamental changes, 58 percent say it should continue the way it is set up now.
Americans were asked which of three statements comes closest to their views: "Medicare works pretty well and only minor changes are necessary to make it work better"; "There are some good things about Medicare, but fundamental changes are needed"; or "Medicare has so much wrong with it that we need to completely rebuild it."
Twenty-seven percent - including 36 percent of Democrats - said only minor changes are needed. Thirteen percent, meanwhile, said the program must be completely rebuilt. But 53 percent says Medicare needs fundamental changes -- even though there are good things about it. That includes a majority of Republicans and independents, and 43 percent of Democrats.
A majority of Americans between ages 18 and 64 want fundamental changes. Only 37 percent of those 65 and older feel the same way.
Respondents were also asked if they would like to see Medicare "continue the way it is set up now, as a program that pays the doctors and hospitals that treat senior citizens" or "if they think it should become "a program that gives senior citizens payments towards the purchase of private insurance." Democrats have called for keeping Medicare as it is now, while Republicans have advocated transforming it into a voucher-style system in which seniors chose their coverage option and are allotted a certain amount of money to cover their insurance costs.
In the poll, 58 percent of Americans said the program should continue as it is now - including 70 percent of Democrats and 58 percent of independents. Less than half of Republicans - 45 percent - share that view. Majorities of both those who are over 55 and under 55 said the program should continue the way it is set up now. (The Republican plan would transform Medicare only for those who are 55 or younger.)
Just 31 percent, meanwhile, said Medicare should become "a program that gives senior citizens payments towards the purchase of private insurance." Even among Republicans, less than half (43 percent) support turning Medicare into a payment program.
Americans say they are not entirely clear on the issue: Only 19 percent say they have a good understanding of the Republicans' proposed changes to Medicare. Two-thirds, meanwhile, say they find the issue confusing.
One thing they are relatively clear on, however, is what they see as the program's value. Sixty-eight percent of Americans say the benefits of Medicare are worth the cost to taxpayers, including majorities of every age group as well as Republicans, Democrats and independents. Only 21 percent say the program is not worth the cost.
Views of the Parties
A majority of Americans have unfavorable views of both major political parties, though Democrats fare slightly better than Republicans.
Just 30 percent have a favorable view of the GOP, down from 37 percent in April; 61 percent have an unfavorable view of the party, an increase of five points from April.
Forty-one percent, meanwhile, have a favorable view of Democrats. Fifty-two percent have an unfavorable view.
Thirty percent of Republicans and 18 percent of Democrats hold an unfavorable view of their own party. Independents hold unfavorable views of both parties, though they are more unhappy with Republicans (64 percent hold an unfavorable view) than Democrats (54 percent hold an unfavorable view).
Asked what issue they most want to hear the presidential candidates discuss, there was no contest: 47 percent of registered voters said the economy and jobs. The budget deficit followed far behind at 11 percent, followed by health care at 7 percent.
This poll was conducted among a random sample of 1,024 adults nationwide, interviewed by telephone June 3-7, 2011. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus three percentage points. The error for subgroups is higher. This poll release conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.