Survey: American voters would cut defense spending by at least $12B

Getty Images

While some Republican presidential candidates have called for increased defense spending, a new survey shows that a majority of American voters would actually decrease it by at least $12 billion.

They would also cut the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and one aircraft carrier, showed the survey, which was conducted by the University of Maryland's non-partisan Program for Public Consultation, between Dec. 20 and Feb. 1.  

"There's been some surprise that there hasn't been more support for increases, particularly on the Republican side...given how much the Republican candidates have emphasized that," said the survey's director, Dr. Steven Kull.

In the survey, a representative sample of approximately 7,000 registered voters across the country were given detailed, non-partisan information vetted by congressional staffers and experts about the 2016 defense budget. 

The majority trimmed the 2016 defense budget by $12 billion, including cutting $4 billion for ground forces, $3 billion for nuclear weapons, $2 billion for air power, $2 billion for naval forces and $1 billion for missile defense. 

The budget for special operation and the Marines were untouched, but no area was increased. 

"They look at all the numbers and they just have a sense about you know, how much to spend," said Kull, who is the president of Voice of the People, a non-partisan group working to give citizens more influence in policy making. 

Broken down by political affiliation, the majority of Democrats would cut the defense budget by $36 billion, while the majority of Republicans left the defense budget as is, and the majority of independents would cut it by $20 billion. 

African American respondents cut the budget $34 billion, and Hispanics cut $20 billion, the survey showed. 

The results of the survey were briefed on Monday to some of the offices of lawmakers for the eight states whose voters participated, which included California, Florida, Maryland, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Texas, and Virginia. 

The desire for decreased defense spending was despite a growing concern among the public about the threat from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. 

"If people were really worked up about it, you would have expected to see some support for increasing [defense spending]," Kull said. 

What mattered more to the survey participants was cutting the nation's budget deficit, he said.  

"It's quite clear that Americans are concerned about the deficit and that seems to be the driver," he said. "So it's interesting how little discussion there is in the campaign about reducing the deficit, given how much the public seems to be interested in bringing that about." 

"We're not talking about deep cuts, you know, some modest cutting," he added. 

While voters nationwide did not call for increased defense spending, Kull said that Florida -- where GOP presidential contender Sen. Marco RubioMarco RubioNew York Times endorses Rubio's rival Rubio: GOP Congress could go in different direction than Trump Poll: Clinton holds 4-point lead in Florida MORE (R) is from -- was an exception among Republican voters. 

"In Florida there was some support for modest increases," said Kull. Rubio has called for a large increase in defense spending if he were to become president. Kull said his Senate office was briefed on the survey's results.

While the majority of participants would cut the F-35 and an aircraft carrier, they would continue to fund the planned Long Range Strike Bomber and not reduce the number of 12 planned submarines to eight.

In addition, the majority of participants also favored keeping 5,500 U.S. troops in Afghanistan, versus withdrawing all of them by the end of the year. 

The survey's report can be found here