The public has long affirmed its desire to balance budgets and cut government spending in the aggregate to political pollsters, and Americans are quick to blame politicians for deficits (a November poll found 58% disapprove of the job President Obama has done handling the budget). However, if they were in charge where would members of the public start to cut? Asked “if you were making up the budget for the federal government this year” would you increase or decrease spending, and given a list of 14 programs, for only two would more than 20% of Americans decrease spending: economic assistance to needy people around the world and the State Department. For nine of the programs a plurality wants to increase government spending; for the other three, a plurality prefers to keep the spending level unchanged. This includes two programs that combined account for nearly half the federal budget: Medicare (53% increase spending, 6% decrease, 37% same) and defense (40% increase spending, 18% decrease, 37% same). Other government programs on which a plurality of Americans say they would increase spending include education (67%), veterans’ benefits (63%), health care (61%), energy (41%), assistance for the unemployed (44%), combating crime (45%) and environmental protection (43%). Read More

Russell Heimlich  is a former web developer at Pew Research Center.