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Sometimes I think Andy Kohut knows me better than I know me, and we’ve only met once.

Kohut is a pollster. As the president of the Pew Research Center, Kohut aims to know not only what we believe but also why we believe what we believe. You may even recognize his name, as lots of journalists routinely turn to Kohut, drawing on his 30-plus years of experience in the field, when they need insights into public opinion.

So when Kohut examines a disconnect how people picture a problem and what should be done about it, as he did in an analysis posted yesterday, it’s worth paying attention. “In my years of polling,” Kohut wrote, “there has never been an issue such as the deficit on which there has been such a consensus among the public about its importance — and such a lack of agreement about acceptable solutions.”

When it comes to Social Security and Medicare, two issues that will figure in political campaigns all over the country this year, the “generational divides” — as Kohut calls the differences in opinion between young and old — are especially striking.

The importance of keeping Social Security benefits at their current levels, Pew’s polling shows, is felt more intensely by boomers and members of the 65-and-older “Silent generation” than it is among younger people. The same generally goes for avoiding future cuts in benefits.

There are similar generational divides over proposals to privatize Social Security. Ditto for proposals to gradually increase the age of eligibility for both Social Security and Medicare.

Interestingly, though, the strongest support for gradually raising the eligibility ages for both programs comes from people 65 and older, who wouldn’t be affected.

As Kohut sees it, the disconnect “poses a serious conundrum for those in Washington wrestling with the debt and deficit issue.” Which suggests, really, that the only way for lawmakers in the nation’s capital to get something done is to lead public opinion, not to follow it. — Bill Hogan