America

Survey: Americans Overwhelmingly Support Defense Cuts

A U.S. Navy variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the F-35C, conducts a test flight over the Chesapeake Bay in 2011. i i

hide captionA U.S. Navy variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the F-35C, conducts a test flight over the Chesapeake Bay in 2011.

U.S. Navy/Getty Images
A U.S. Navy variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the F-35C, conducts a test flight over the Chesapeake Bay in 2011.

A U.S. Navy variant of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the F-35C, conducts a test flight over the Chesapeake Bay in 2011.

U.S. Navy/Getty Images

As Congress struggles to rein in the federal deficit, a new survey finds Americans preferred to cut defense spending more than any other program.

In a new survey that not only asked for opinion, but also briefed the respondents on the federal budget, Americans came to a bipartisan conclusion: 67 percent of Republicans and 90 percent of Democrats supported cutting the defense budget.

And by quite a bit.

Here's how the Center for Public Integrity (CPI), one of the three non-profits who conducted the survey, boils it down:

"The average total cut was around $103 billion, a substantial portion of the current $562 billion base defense budget, while the majority supported cutting it at least $83 billion. These amounts both exceed a threatened cut of $55 billion at the end of this year under so-called 'sequestration' legislation passed in 2011, which Pentagon officials and lawmakers alike have claimed would be devastating.

'When Americans look at the amount of defense spending compared to spending on other programs, they see defense as the one that should take a substantial hit to reduce the deficit,' said Steven Kull, director of the Program for Public Consultation (PPC), and the lead developer of the survey. 'Clearly the polarization that you are seeing on the floor of the Congress is not reflective of the American people.'

In fact, just this morning the House of Representatives advanced a bill that would sidestep the "sequestration", cutting social programs and dodging cuts for defense. Just to bring you up to speed: The "sequester" came into play after a "supercommittee," established by the big budget agreement reached in the summer of 2011, failed to find $1.2 trillion in cuts over the next 10 years. Because that failed, the agreement stipulated that the cuts would be made evenly across the board.

Respondents to the survey were also presented with arguments for and against certain cuts and what it found is that Americans have nuanced opinions about defense. They agree that the United States has a unique responsibility as an "exceptional nation," but they also agreed that it was acting too often as a "military policeman" to the world.

"Most Americans are able to hold two competing ideas in their mind and, unlike Congress, thoughtfully recognize the merits of both," Kull said, according to CPI. "And then [they] still come to hard and even bold decisions."

Here are three more key findings as parsed by CPI:

  • "Around three-quarters of Americans think spending should be cut for air power, ground forces, and naval forces."
  • "Nuclear arms were given the biggest proportional hit, while ground forces took the biggest dollar hit; special forces had the most support."
  • "More than eighty percent of Americans are convinced 'there is a lot of waste in the national defense budget.'"

The survey was conducted by three non-profit groups: The Center for Public integrity, the Program for Public Consultation and the Stimson Center. You can find the full report here. The sample size was 665 and the margin of error is 4.8 percent.

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