Do Americans want to cut defense spending? It depends on how you ask the question.

September 27, 2012

A new survey suggests that most Americans would oppose big defense cuts. About 40 percent of Americans believe that current levels of spending are "about right," while 23 percent believe that we're spending "too little," according to a poll commissioned by the Foreign Policy Initiative. By comparison, 28.6 percent believe that "too much" is being spent on the military. What's more, three-fourths of respondents describe military spending as having an impact on jobs and economics growth.


Lockheed Martin's F-35B is shown during an unveiling ceremony in Fort Worth, Texas. (Donna McWilliam -- Associated Press)

FPI's findings seem to contradict a study this year from the Stimson Center, the Program for Public Consultation and the Center for Public Integrity, which showed that Americans not only wanted to cut defense spending, but also slash defense budgets by an average of 18 percent. 

Why the discrepancy? The Stimson Center's Matthew Leatherman points out that the Foreign Policy Initiative didn't give any additional context to its question about the defense budget, such as the actual size of the defense budget and how defense spending compares to other kinds of government spending, which the Stimson study provided its participants.

"Stimson respondents expressed surprise about its size relative to other discretionary items, historical trends and spending of potential allies/enemies," Leatherman says. What's more, Stimson respondents were also given the discretion to make individual, targeted cuts instead of approving a broad blank check for reductions. 

That doesn't mean that they'd support the defense sequester either, which deliberately imposes indiscriminate cuts across the defense budget. But the Stimson study does suggest that ordinary Americans do have more of an appetite for defense cuts when they're armed with more information.

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