Poll: Public Evenly Divided On Whether Federal Spending Should Increase, Or Decrease

All that rhetoric from Republicans that the election returns signal the desire of the American public to cut back spending in Washington may not be true after all based on this new poll from CNN:

Washington (CNN) – A new national poll suggests that cuts in federal spending are likely to be hard to sell to the American public, even though the desire for less spending on domestic programs is significantly higher than it was during the Reagan and Clinton years.

According to a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Thursday, the number of Americans who want more government spending on domestic programs equals the number who want the government to spend less. Overall, 49 percent say the federal government should spend more money for domestic programs; that figure is up 17 percentage points since 1994. Another 49 percent saying less should be spent on domestic programs.

“Aside from party identification, the biggest demographic differences on this question were between younger and older Americans,” said CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. “A majority of Americans under 50 want more spending on domestic programs. But 57 percent of Americans older than 50 think the government should spend less on these programs.”

When you dig deeper in the poll, you find that many programs may be hard to cut:

According to the poll, more than seven in ten oppose eliminating the deductions taxpayers can take for mortgage payments and young children; two-thirds oppose an increase in the federal gasoline tax. Two-thirds also oppose an increase in the retirement age for Social Security and three-quarters don’t like the proposal to reduce the yearly increase in Social Security benefits. Only about one in three feel that reducing the deficit is a higher priority than keeping the current levels on farm aid and college loans, and only one in five think that deficit reduction is more important than keeping the current levels of spending on Medicare and Social Security.

But the survey indicates that some federal programs are not popular: 61 percent say that deficit reduction is more important than funding for the arts, and 68 percent say reducing the deficit is more important than avoiding cuts in pay and benefits for federal workers.

This supports the argument I made earlier this week that Republicans should be careful about what lessons they draw from the 2010 elections:

The idea that there’s some kind of broad political consensus for the budget cuts and, yes, tax increases that would be needed to seriously deal with the deficit and the debt simply isn’t supported by the available evidence. That’s not saying that Republicans shouldn’t attack debt and spending issues over the next two years, of course, but the danger they face this time around is similar to the one they faced in 1994. By concentrating on issues that are important to their base, they are in danger of ignoring what’s important to the public as a whole. Much like 2008, this election was primarily about one thing, the economy. Democrats suffered two weeks ago because they lost sight of that. Republicans could suffer a similar fate if they forget why they were sent to Capitol Hill.

This poll would seem to reinforce that warning, as well as providing yet more evidence that Americans still don’t know what they want out of government.

FILED UNDER: 2010 Election, Congress, US Politics, , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Dave Schuler says:

    To paraphrase Elbert Hubbard (not the founder of Scientology), when the people who actually pay taxes want to pay more and those who receive payouts from the government want to get less, I’ll pay more attention to this.

  2. wr says:

    Yes, Dave, because only the multi-millionaires in this country are producers, everyone else is a parasite who deserves to die in his own filth. People should be free to become billionaires, and if they fail, that’s their own fault and no one should care.

    Libertarianism — a political philosophy only a sociopath could love.

  3. An Interested Party says:

    “But 57 percent of Americans older than 50 think the government should spend less on these programs.”

    Terribly ironic considering how many of those people directly benefit from government programs…

    “…61 percent say that deficit reduction is more important than funding for the arts…”

    If only ending funding for the arts would make a substantial difference to the deficit, alas…