Americans typically want bigger defense budgets until they are informed about how much is actually spent on defense, at which point they overwhelmingly favor cutting military spending by considerable margins, according to a new opinion poll released Thursday.
Three-quarters of Americans – about 67 percent of Republicans and 90 percent of Democrats – said they supported cutting defense to reduce the federal budget deficit, according to the survey published by the Program for Public Consultation at the University of Maryland.
Polls often show broad public support for robust defense spending and even a reluctance to make cuts to the budget, as reflected in Congress’s almost complete refusal to scale back in recent years.
But after respondents were given actual figures about the size of the current defense budget compared with other budget items and historic defense spending levels, “and presented with arguments that experts make for and against cuts,” they favored an average of an 18 percent cut in the current fiscal 2012 budget levels.
Defense spending takes up about 65 percent of the discretionary budget, which adds up to more than the rest of the world’s military spending combined. Most of those participating in the survey claimed, after being presented with the facts, that defense spending was greater than they expected.
“This suggests that Americans generally underestimate the size of the defense budget and that when they receive balanced information about its size they are more likely to [want to] cut it to reduce the deficit,” said Steven Kull, the center’s director.