The survey by the Pew Research Center found 72 percent of respondents aware of Ryan's plan to provide vouchers for the purchase of private health insurance, which the Wisconsin congressman has since revised. Of those who have heard of the proposal, 49 percent oppose it and 34 percent support it.
The poll also shows more respondents disapproved than approved of Ryan as the Republican vice presidential candidate. And they gave low grades to Democrat Joe Biden, the office's current occupant.
House Republicans twice have approved legislation sponsored by Ryan to convert Medicare to a voucher program. The plan would rely on competition among private insurers to hold down healthcare costs. The measure would cut government spending by more than $5 trillion, reduce taxes for high earners and balance the budget in 2040.
Ryan's original plan did away with the traditional Medicare program entirely; he later agreed to continue a public option, albeit with limits on how much the government would spend. The current Medicare system would remain for everyone at least 55 years old.
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who chose Ryan as his running mate, has said he would sign such a plan into law if it passed Congress.
Ryan's ascension to the national Republican ticket has increased the focus on Medicare, the government healthcare program for the elderly. "We want this debate, we need this debate and we are going to win this debate," Ryan said earlier this week in Florida.
Republicans have criticized President Obama for reducing future Medicare payments by more than $700 billion in his healthcare law. The savings come from reduced payments to hospitals and private insurance companies offering more expensive Medicare Advantage plans, not from cutting benefits. Ryan would reduce Medicare spending by the same amount in his budget bill.
While current Medicare recipients wouldn't be affected by the change to a voucher system, senior citizens were the strongest opponents of the Ryan proposal, according to the Pew poll. Among respondents 65 years of age and older, 55 percent opposed ending traditional Medicare, while 24 percent favored it. Those between 50 and 64 disapproved of it, 49 percent to 35 percent, and those between 18 and 49 were against it, 46 percent to 38 percent.
By 51 percent to 33 percent, respondents said it is more important to leave Social Security and Medicare unchanged than to reduce the budget deficit. Independent voters agreed with that position by 48 percent to 35 percent.
Ryan was termed a fair or poor selection for Romney's ticket by 46 percent, while 28 percent called the pick excellent or good.
As for Biden, 56 percent said he has done a fair or poor job as vice president, while 27 percent rated his performance as excellent or good.
The poll of 1,005 adults was taken Aug. 16-19 and has a margin of error for its entire sample of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points.
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