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Poll: Americans Dramatically Underestimate What Their Government Spends on Its Military

From Rasmussen

Voters are fairly evenly divided as to whether the federal government spends too much or too little on national defense, but most also appear to dramatically underestimate how much is actually spent.

The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey shows that 27% of Likely Voters say the United States does not spend enough money on the military and national security. Thirty-two percent (32%) say America spends too much on defense, while a plurality (37%) thinks the nation spends about the right amount. (To see survey question wording, click here.)

But only 25% of voters believe the United States should always spend at least three times as much on defense as any other nation. Forty percent (40%) do not think the country needs to spend this much, while 35% are not sure. Interestingly, if the government were to actually spend only three times as much as any other nation, it would imply a significant cut in U.S. defense spending.

For fiscal year 2011, the total budget for defense is estimated to be around $719 billion. That does not include the cost of veterans’ care, which totals another $124 billion. By comparison, no other nation in the world spends more than $110 billion on defense. Earlier polling showed that just 58% recognize that the United States spends more on defense than any other nation in the world.

Underlying voters’ opinions on how much the United States spends on defense is the fact that many don’t know where most of the government’s money already goes. Just 40% can correctly identify that most federal spending goes towards national defense, Social Security and Medicare. Roughly the same number (38%) believes this statement to be false, while another 22% are not sure.

Those numbers have changed little since November. Voters were even less informed in February of last year.

“Anybody who says they want to cut spending must deal with spending on national security, Social Security and Medicare,” says Scott Rasmussen, president of Rasmussen Reports. “This is not an ideological preference; it’s a numerical reality. There is no way to cut government spending without putting these issues on the table.”

(Want a free daily e-mail update? If it's in the news, it's in our polls). Rasmussen Reports updates are also available on Twitter or Facebook.

The survey of 1,000 Likely Voters was conducted on January 27, 2011 by Rasmussen Reports. The margin of sampling error is +/- 3 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence. Field work for all Rasmussen Reports surveys is conducted by Pulse Opinion Research, LLC. See methodology.

Budget data cited in this article comes from the federal budget documents prepared by the Office of Management and Budget. More than 60% of all spending is consumed by national security, Social Security, Medicare and interest on the federal debt. 

Forty percent (40%) of Republicans think the United States does not spend enough on defense, while 44% say it spends the right amount. Half of Democrats (51%) believe the country spends too much on the military and national security, while a slight plurality of voters not affiliated with either major party (38%) says it spends the right amount.

President Obama has stressed the need for deficit reduction since early in his presidency, but few voters expect him to hit his goal of cutting the deficit in half by the end of his first term.

Most voters also still think Congress is unlikely to make major spending cuts in the near future.

The president also discussed targeted new government spending in areas like education, transportation and technological innovation in his State of the Union address, but 50% of voters now oppose the idea.

Sixty-eight percent (68%) of voters prefer a government with fewer services and lower taxes rather than a more active one with more services and higher taxes. Yet despite the Republican takeover of the House, voters still expect government spending, taxes and the deficit to go up over the next two years.

Additional information from this survey and a full demographic breakdown are available to Platinum Members only.

Please sign up for the Rasmussen Reports daily e-mail update (it’s free) or follow us on Twitter or Facebook. Let us keep you up to date with the latest public opinion news.

Survey toplines and crosstabs are available to Platinum Members only.


Rasmussen Reports is an electronic media company specializing in the collection, publication and distribution of public opinion polling information.  We poll on a variety of topics in the fields of politics, business and lifestyle, updating our site’s content on a news cycle throughout the day, everyday.

Rasmussen Reports Platinum Members get an all-access pass to polling news, analysis and insight not available to the general public.

Scott Rasmussen, president of Rasmussen Reports, has been an independent pollster for more than a decade. To learn more about our methodology, click here.


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