The Hill Poll: Voters: Pentagon should bear the brunt of deficit cuts

A majority of voters believe cutting America’s debt is more important than maintaining domestic and military programs at their current levels, according to a new poll for The Hill.

But the public also feel strongly that the budget should be balanced on the back of reductions to defense spending rather than through cuts to programs such as Social Security and Medicare.

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As the clock ticks down on any possibility of averting the sequester’s across-the-board spending cuts, a solid 58 percent of respondents in The Hill Poll prioritized cutting America’s debt over maintaining current spending levels on domestic and military programs. This figure is almost double the share of voters, 28 percent, who believed the opposite.

In order to reduce America’s debts and deficits, more than twice as many voters said they would support defense cuts as said they would support cuts to social programs. 

Forty-nine percent of respondents said they would support cutting military spending, while just 23 percent said they would support slashing Social Security and Medicare. An overwhelming majority, 69 percent, said they would oppose cuts to social programs.  

The findings are particularly striking as Washington prepares for the looming sequester. Cuts amounting to $85 billion are scheduled to go into effect on March 1 if Congress cannot come to an agreement over deficit reduction. 

Both parties agree that sequestration would have a damaging effect on the economy, but so far neither side has shown much willingness to compromise. President Obama has proposed the outline of a deal that would contain equal amounts of new revenues and spending cuts, but Republicans have refused to countenance new taxes and have complained that Obama’s plan is overly vague. 

Some voters appeared to cross party lines in their views on how to reduce the debt. 

High numbers of both Republicans and Democrats said they would oppose cuts to social programs: 62 percent of Republicans and 82 percent of Democrats opposed cutting Medicare and Social Security, while just 29 percent of Republicans and 12 percent of Democrats supported potential cuts in those areas. 

Notably, a higher percentage of Republicans opposed cuts to social programs (62 percent) than professed opposition to defense cuts (56 percent). 

Further underlining the general preference for reductions in defense spending over cuts to social programs, 37 percent of respondents said America spends too much on the military, while just 18 percent said America spends too little. 

Party affiliation is a factor underlying voters’ choice between cutting the debt and maintaining spending levels, the survey found. Sixty-seven percent of Republicans say cutting America’s debt is the more pressing need, in contrast to just 43 percent of Democrats. Conversely, 23 percent of Republicans said maintaining domestic and military programs at their current levels should be the priority. However, just 36 percent of Democrats prioritized maintaining current spending levels.

Notably, respondents who identified themselves with neither party appeared to align themselves with Republicans on the general issue of debt versus spending: 66 percent said cutting America’s debt was more important, while just 22 percent chose maintaining current spending levels. 

When asked whether America spends too much, too little or about the right amount on the military, voters also tended to break along party lines. But those respondents who identified as “Other” tended to align themselves with Democrats on that question: 49 percent of Democrats and 42 percent of those who identified as “Other” said America spends too much on the military, while just 13 and 12 percent, respectively, said America spends too little. Similarly, voters who viewed themselves as “centrist” tended to express similar views to those who identified themselves as “liberal.” 

Washington gridlock aside, some economists have pointed in recent months to positive economic news, like a recovery in the housing market and the rise of consumer spending. But in the face of the squabbling over the sequester, just 15 percent of likely voters say their personal financial position has improved over the past 12 months, while 37 percent of voters say it has gotten worse and 47 percent say it has stayed about the same. Democrats tended to be more optimistic: 20 percent of Democratic respondents said their situation had improved, while just 7 percent of Republicans agreed. A full 50 percent of Republicans said their situation had gotten worse, while just 24 percent of Democrats took such a negative view.

The findings came from a nationwide survey of 1,000 likely voters conducted on Feb. 21 by Pulse Opinion Research.

Click here to view data from The Hill Poll.