Saturday, February 23, 2013

No One Really Cares about the Deficit

The other day, I wrote about a recent Pew poll that demonstrated how the American public thought that the deficit was an important problem to be addressed and that it should be addressed primarily through spending cuts (rather than tax increases). 

Where do the American people want to see those cuts made?  Well, Pew had another poll out yesterday to answer that question.  And the answer is (drumroll please)  nowhere.

Of the 19 budget categories included, spending more or the same was more popular than spending less in every single one.  Only in the case of "aid to the world's needy" (aka THOSE people, as likely perceived) was there a close battle.  For foreign aid, cuts held a plurality of 48%, but the combined total of increased spending (21%) and staying the same (28%) edged it out with 49%.  Spending cuts never managed even a plurality in any of the other budget categories.

A majority favored spending increases in two categories: veterans' benefits (53%-38%-6%) and education (60%-29%-10%).  This demonstrates an understanding of a basic moral obligation to future generations and the weakest among us (the children) as well as to those who have put their lives at risk (the veterans). 

In a number of other categories, the percentage of survey respondents who wanted the government to continue to spend AT LEAST what it is currently doing surpassed 80%: Social Security (87%), natural disaster relief (84%), food and drug inspection (83%), combating crime (82%), Medicare (82%), and roads and infrastructure (81%).

In the other budget categories, there was only one case other than "aid to the world's needy" in which the combined support for spending the same or more was not over double that of spending less:  the State Department (60%-34%).  Unsurprisingly, Americans are fairly parochial.

Pew also provided a breakdown of opinions by party affiliation. 

A majority of Democrats wanted to spend more on health care (58%), environmental protection (52%), Medicare (52%), combating crime (52%), veterans' benefits (51%), and education (75%).  There was no majority Democratic support for cutting any budget category although more wanted to cut defense spending (32%) than increase it (28%). 

A majority of Republicans wanted to spend more on veterans' benefits (55%), and a majority wanted to cut spending only on aid to the worlds' needy (70%) and unemployment assistance (56%).

How about the beloved independents?  They, unsurprisingly, reflect the overall picture.  They want to spend more on education (57%) and veterans' benefits (53%) and less on aid to the world's needy (52%).

The popularity of cutting foreign aid is not surprising but quite disheartening, considering that the U.S. does not spend as much (in terms of potential to give) as most countries in Europe.

The Pew poll also showed evolution over time.  Depressingly, Americans have gotten a lot more selfish since 2009.  In just about every category, the share of the public that wants to spend more has fallen; in some cases, the decline was quite drastic:  Medicare (down to 36% from 53%), health care (down to 38% from 61%), and unemployment assistance (down to 24% from 44%).

Despite the fact that the arc of the American people seems to bend toward stinginess, as a whole, spending cuts are not popular when presented in their specifics.  People like the idea of cutting spending when presented in general terms because of the success of the anti-government rhetoric of the Republican Party over the past 30+ years.  However, when people realize what the government does for them, their spending fetishism disappears into thin air--and good riddance to it.

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