Majority of Americans are Willing to Make Defense Cuts, New Survey Finds

Three quarters of Americans favor cutting defense as a way to reduce the deficit, according to an innovative new survey. And the majority to trim spending is bipartisan: 67 percent of Republicans and 90 percent of Democrats surveyed.

Respondents were given information about the size of the defense budget from different perspectives and presented with arguments that experts make for and against cuts. The survey presented the defense budget broken down into nine areas, respondents then composed their own for 2013.  Their tally was significantly smaller than the 2012 defense budget, with an average cut of 18 percent.  Republicans sliced an average of 12 percent and Democrats 22 percent.

The study was conducted by the Program for Public Consultation in collaboration with the Stimson Center’s Budgeting for Foreign Affairs and Defense program and the Center for Public Integrity’s National Security desk.

Other polls on defense spending have mostly asked simply whether respondents favor or oppose defense cuts, and generally found smaller numbers favoring them.  “This suggests that Americans generally underestimate the size of the defense budget and that when they receive balanced information about its size they are more likely to cut it to reduce the deficit,” said Steven Kull, director of PPC.

Majorities said that defense spending was more than they expected when it was presented in comparison to other items in the discretionary budget (65 percent), to historical defense spending levels in constant dollars (60 percent), and to the defense spending of potential enemies and allies (56 percent).

Additional findings:

  • Nuclear weapons received a 27 percent average cut
  • Ground force capabilities were slashed $36.2 billion
  • Eight in 10 respondents favored cutting the Obama administrations proposed budget of $88 billion on war spending in Afghanistan for 2013. (Average cut: 40 percent)
  • Six in ten respondents favored reducing healthcare costs by having military families and retirees increase their co-pay for drug prescriptions

Said Kull: “What is striking is that it appears that the American people, unlike Congress, are able to thoughtfully recognize the validity of arguments both for and against cutting defense spending and still come to hard and even bold decisions.”

How the Study Was Conducted
The study was fielded April 12 to 18 with a sample of 665 American adults (margin of error plus or minus 3.8 percent, accounting for a design effect, plus or minus 4.8 percent). It was conducted using the web-enabled KnowledgePanel®, a probability-based panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. Initially, participants are chosen scientifically by a random selection of telephone numbers and residential addresses.

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