Americans still don’t want to cut any actual government programs

February 23, 2013

This is quickly becoming the world's least surprising chart. A new survey from the Pew Research Center finds that most Americans like the idea of cutting federal spending in the abstract — they just can't agree on any specific areas they'd actually like to cut:

Foreign aid is far and away the most popular suggestion for the chopping block, but even here, it's a close call — 48 percent of respondents said cut it, 49 percent said keep it the same or increase it. (Foreign aid makes up less than 1 percent of the federal budget.) In no other spending area is there majority support for cuts.

Pew did find a partisan divide. Republicans are more likely than Democrats to support cuts in most areas, save for military spending. But there were only two areas where a majority of Republican respondents were willing to support cuts: unemployment benefits (56 percent) and foreign aid (70 percent). Meanwhile: "There is no program among the 19 included in the survey that even a plurality of Democrats wants to see decreased."

One interesting finding in Pew's research is that enthusiasm for expanding the Pentagon's budget has waned since September 11, 2011. But still only one-quarter of respondents said that military spending should be decreased:

Another notable tidbit was Pew's charts on how attitudes in spending have changed over the long-term. Back in 1987, hefty majorities of Americans thought we needed to increase government spending in a whole host of areas, from Social Security to health care to environmental protection to crime control. As the chart below shows, that's no longer true today—even though public opinion is quite far from the point where cuts are popular:

The link to the Pew poll came via Catherine Rampell, who points out that the public has become less supportive of military cuts since 2011 and wonders if sequester coverage is influencing that result. "Note that the military would bear a major share of the sequestration-related spending cuts, and as a result much has been written in the last few months about the scary consequences that such cuts would cause."

An earlier Pew survey had found that 40 percent of respondents said Congress should just let the sequester hit if Congress can't reach a deal by Mar. 1, while 49 percent wanted to delay the cuts entirely.

Related: Our comprehensive FAQ on the sequester.

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Dylan Matthews | February 23, 2013