Thursday, December 17, 2009

...And Such Small Portions

Stan Collender has a nice post up about American attitudes about government spending.  Basically, according to an AEI study, Americans say that government is too big...but support increased spending on almost every topic (education, health, environment, etc.).  The exceptions? 
In the most recent poll (2008) cited in the paper, foreign aid, the Pentagon, "welfare," and "space exploration" were the four areas where respondents said the federal government was spending "too much."
I like this topic a lot; I use it in class to show my students the concept of inconsistent public opinion (people believe contradictory things -- in this case, they want government spending cut overall but want more spent on all of the programs).

Of course, the first obvious problem is that foreign aid and space exploration are both tiny, tiny items in the budget, so there's really not much to be gained from cutting them.

If you like small government, however, it just gets worse. People think that foreign aid and NASA are actually pretty large chunks of the budget (and can't cite anything for that, but I've seen survey data on it).  At least with my students, however, if I tell them the % of the budget that goes to foreign aid and NASA, they realize it's much less than they thought...and often decide they think more should be spent!  Or, with foreign aid, they often think it should be less overall...but think more should go to each or most of the individual nations that I list.

Then there's defense. People do think that America spends too much.  Overall.  But they think that not enough is spent on military pay & benefits, veteran's services, the most up-to-date weapons, and more. 

Basically, however large one wants government to be, there's polling data supporting that view.  

1 comment:

  1. My recollection is that there was a survey back in the 90s that asked 'should we increase or decrease foreign aid' and then asked 'to what level, as a percentage of the federal budget'. There were a lot of responses saying we should decrease it to 5%. Hee hee.



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