The American People Don’t Want To Cut Federal Spending

In poll after poll, the American people claim to say that they think that the Federal Budget Deficit is an important issue, but as a new Pew Research Center poll shows, there’s very little actual support for cutting spending:

Of 19 options for cutting government spending, only one — reducing foreign aid — was supported by more than 40 percent of Americans, according to a poll released Friday.

The widespread rejection of most ideas to slash spending in the poll from the Pew Research Center shows the difficulty of translating a popular GOP message — the federal budget needs to be shrunk down to size — into political reality. Even on foreign aid, only 48 percent want to cut, compared with 49 percent who want to increase funding or keep it at the same level.

It also displays the difficulty of replacing the $1.2 trillion in spending cuts scheduled to hit March 1. While both Republicans and Democrats say they want to avoid the across-the-board slashes in defense and domestic spending, negotiations are at a standstill and an agreement on replacement cuts could be elusive.

Decreasing funding for the State Department and cutting unemployment aid are both supported by around one-third of Americans. Cuts to the Defense Department and to aid for the needy in the U.S. are backed by about a quarter of Americans. Cuts in all other areas suggested by Pew, including energy, health care, entitlement programs, infrastructure, scientific research and combating crime, receive even less support.

Here are the actual numbers:



This isn’t new, of course. Previous polls consistently show that the public dislikes the deficit, doesn’t want to increase taxes on anyone except “the rich,” and also doesn’t want to cut spending in a way that would matter. Foreign aid is always at the top of the list of programs that people do want to cut, but it’s also the one program that matters the least given that it constitutes less than 1% of total Federal Spending. As long as this is the case, we’re never going to get a handle on our fiscal problems.

As in many other areas, if the American people want to know who is responsible for our current situation, they need do no more than look in a mirror.

FILED UNDER: Congress, Deficit and Debt, Public Opinion Polls, 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. gVOR08 says:

    “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” – Pogo.

    I seem to remember seeing polls in which people who responded that foreign aid should be cut were then asked to what level it should be cut. Routinely they say it should be cut to 5% of the budget or some other number way higher than it actually is.

  2. Ron Beasley says:

    Remember those tea party types shouting “keep the government out of my Medicare.” That’s what we are dealing with!

  3. legion says:

    That’s because the American People are good enough at basic algebra and economics to realize that cutting gov’t spending won’t actually create jobs or improve the economy in the slightest.

  4. michael reynolds says:

    Yep. People like stuff they don’t have to pay for.

  5. Todd says:

    When the rubber hits the road, what even self-proclaimed libertarians are usually actually in favor of is “smaller goverment for thee, not for me”. Almost nobody is willing to give up anything that actually benefits themselves or someone close to them.

  6. Todd says:

    Being around the military my whole life, I know a lot of people who describe themselves as “strongly Libertarian”, all the while drawing a military pension, having their health needs covered by Tricare, and often starting a second career with companies that derive most or all of their profits sucking at the government teet.

    They’ll scream from the rooftops about the need to reduce the size of government .. until someone proposes raising Tricare copays … at which time they scream even louder about how that would be “unfair”. 😉

  7. C. Clavin says:

    It’s not like the list of things people want to spend money on are stupid…Education, Veterans Care, SS, Roads, Crimefighting, Research.
    The problem here is that a bunch of grifters have convinced a bunch of rubes that we can no longer afford those things.
    But what they never explain is why can’t we?
    We can’t because we have cut the taxes of the rich to historic lows.
    Because we fought a war of choice and didn’t bother to pay for it.
    Because we expanded an entitlement and did a big give-away to the pharmaceutical companies and didn’t pay for it.
    Because we de-regulated the financial sector and they crashed the economy by selling snake oil.
    There is a reason we have a $1T deficit and it is not the things on that list.
    It’s because things were so incompetently managed between 2001 and 2009. And if we listen to those incompetents now we will be even worse off in the future.
    Stop listening to the grifters.

  8. David M says:

    Based on the GOP recent history of “no you name the cuts”, I feel pretty confident in saying they already know this.

  9. Tsar Nicholas says:

    People are selfish. Always have been. And in recent decades Zombieland has been dumbed down basically to a state of nature.

    Hamilton was right and Jefferson was wrong.

    The prospects are grim. The government takes in a trillion less dollars annually than it spends annually. Medicare and especially Social Security are incipient disasters. The notion that Gen. Y will be able to support first the Boomers and then Gen. X patently is ludicrous.

    It won’t end well. In about 20-30 years, perhaps a lot sooner, we’ll look at “Idiocracy” and realize it’s a de facto documentary sent back in time from our future. And we’ll reflect on “1984” and “A Clockwork Orange” and realize that Orwell and Burgess might have been far too optimistic in connection with their respective dystopian visions. Europe West with much higher crime rates and far worse demographic schisms and educaton programs is a recipe for utter calamity.

  10. al-Ameda says:

    Republicans made it a lynchpin of their lovely and upbeat 2012 campaign, that is: only deserving people should get government services. And who are the deserving? Billionaires, multi-millionaires. Who are the deadbeats who should pay more for government “free stuff”? Oh, seniors on fixed income, people working at a salary of $40K or less. It’s a deeply moving message – how did they lose?

  11. An Interested Party says:

    Europe West with much higher crime rates and far worse demographic schisms and educaton programs is a recipe for utter calamity.

    This lame-assed clichéd bullshit line must be cut and pasted several times on a daily basis…

  12. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Yep. People like stuff they don’t have to pay for.

    People like stuff they don’t KNOW they have to pay for.

    FTFY. Happy to be of service. You will get my bill in the mail.

  13. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @C. Clavin: Hear Hear….

  14. Davebo says:

    In poll after poll, the American people claim to say that they think that the Federal Budget Deficit,

    I’m not asking for coherent ideas but could we at least insist on coherent sentences?

  15. Ben Wolf says:

    We do not have a budgetary problem. At all. We are not living beyond our means, we are living well below our means.

    Opining about meaningless debts does not make them more relevant. Billionaire vipers like Pete Peterson spreading their venom about the necessity of Americans to “sacrifice” does not make them correct.

    I find it bemusing that people so concerned with this issue so rarely think it through. Have you asked yourselves how the government is able to borrow precisely the quantity of reserves necessary to meet its spending requirements, every single year? Automatic stabilizers vary the budget balance in ways that can’t be predicted ahead of time, yet we never seem to accidentally borrow more or less than we need, and bond buyers are always willing to supply precisely that amount.

    Have you ever stopped to consider that you’ve never, ever had a problem redeeming your government bonds? Ever considered the implications of a “borrower” who has been borrowing for two-hundred years and yet never has to juggle books to pay off creditors? Never wondered how a government that is supposedly broke can pay off $60 trillion in 2012 alone?

    I’d quote Paul Krugman, who has in the last year moved precisely to the viewpoint held by myself and others (whom some have called a cult), but I’m not sure whether than would help or hinder the message.

  16. bill says:

    i told my kids that they’d better be successful,they’ll have to pay for this stuff.

  17. anjin-san says:

    @ bill

    to pay for this stuff.

    You mean the stuff that you, and they use every day of your lives?

    What’s your plan – be a good conservative and go deadbeat?

  18. superdestroyer says:

    @C. Clavin:

    So you argument is that is taxes were raised by $1 trillion that every thing would be great. That increasing taxes would have no negative impacts on the economy. That the doubling of income taxes would create no negative incentives.

    I find it odd that you claim that Democrats are great at budgeting when deep blue states like Illinois and New York are facing massive budget problems. The idea that Democrats are the only ones who can manage budgets is laughable. When the Harry Reid Senate has not voted on a budget in three years, there is no way that anyone can claim that Democrats are great at budgets.

  19. Tyrell says:

    As income levels decrease and unemployment does not show much improvement, who is going to pay for all of this? And consider that whole generations and population sub groups will have the prevailing attitude of “let someone else work and pay my way through life”. There have been a few that have taken note of this major flaw in the economy and culture of this country, but certainly not the current leaders. Read what Bill Cosby and Walter Williams say about this.

  20. C. Clavin says:

    Superdope shows how dopey he is by using the no budget meme…OMG…no budget…how is the country managing????

  21. superdestroyer says:

    @C. Clavin:

    I believe that the most of the federal government has been operating under continuing resolution since 1 Oct 2012.

    I guess writing insults is easier for progressives instead of reading up on the federal budget progress. Remember that the Senate has not passed a budget bill in over 1000 days.

    And please to not claim that federal new ratio or the economist are right wing nut news sources.

  22. al-Ameda says:


    Read what Bill Cosby and Walter Williams say about this.

    I know when I want in-depth analysis of the issues of the day, I look to senior citizen comedians.

  23. grumpy realist says:

    This reminds me of the ol’ comment about abortion: “Americans disapprove of abortion, except in the case of it being incest, rape, or their own.”

    Similar here–Americans disapprove of all governmental programs that they don’t use.

  24. jimmy D says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    Are there any corporate talking points that you don’t swallow hook-line-and sinker? WOW.

  25. jimmy D says:

    @Tyrell: those people who don’t want to work and want other people to pay for them, ….they’re called Bankers right?