Politics and Public Opinion, Polls

The polls: Defense spending and taxes

Image Credit: Shutterstock

Image Credit: Shutterstock

Defense Spending

This week, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced a budget blueprint for Pentagon spending, and it drew immediate fire from lawmakers in both parties, veterans’ groups, and lobbyists. But what are Americans likely to think about it?

Americans rarely give specific budgetary or legislative advice, so attitudes about something as complicated as the Pentagon budget are likely to reflect general perceptions of the state of our defenses. Fortunately, several polling organizations provide trends and fresh data that shed light on those feelings.

For more than 40 years, the Gallup Organization has been asking whether we are spending too little, about the right amount, or too much on national defense and military purposes. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Americans were deeply concerned about the state of our defenses, and 51% told Gallup in early 1981 that we were spending too little. In Gallup’s first poll on defense spending after 9/11, only 17% said we were spending too much, while a third said we were spending too little. When Gallup updated its question in February this year, 37% said we were spending too much, 28% too little, and a third about the right amount. Gallup reported that views have held fairly steady in recent years.

Partisan differences on defense spending are nothing new. In Gallup’s new poll, 51% of Democrats said we were spending too much on defense, compared to 37% of independents and 20% of Republicans.

A strong plurality, 47%, in an October-November 2013 Pew Research Center  poll on defense spending wanted to keep defense spending about where it was, while 23% said it should be increased and 28% that it should be decreased. Like Gallup, Pew also found that Democrats were more likely than Republicans to support reductions in Pentagon spending.

Keeping the US #1

Pew points out that a solid majority of Americans, 56%, still believe it is important that the United States continue to be the world’s leading superpower.


As Hamid Karzai dithers about a bilateral security agreement between the United States and Afghanistan, a large majority of Americans tell pollsters that the war there wasn’t worth fighting. Two-thirds of adults surveyed in a December ABC News/Washington Post poll gave that response. This matched the peak “not worth fighting” response about the Iraq war. However, a solid majority in another question in the same poll said they wanted to keep some troops in Afghanistan for training and anti-insurgency operations.

Tax Reform

Like Secretary Hagel’s Pentagon spending blueprint, Congressman Dave Camp’s proposal to overhaul the tax code also met with immediate resistance from a variety of stake-holders. In Pew’s January 2014 poll on priorities for the President and Congress, 55% put reforming the tax system as a top priority, but it ranked far behind the top three priorities: strengthening the economy (80%), improving the job situation (74%), and protecting the nation from terrorism (73%).

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