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Voters Underestimate How Much U.S. Spends on Defense

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Voters are fairly evenly divided as to whether the federal government spends too much or too little on national defense, but most also appear to dramatically underestimate how much is actually spent.

The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey shows that 27% of Likely Voters say the United States does not spend enough money on the military and national security. Thirty-two percent (32%) say America spends too much on defense, while a plurality (37%) thinks the nation spends about the right amount. (To see survey question wording, click here.)

But only 25% of voters believe the United States should always spend at least three times as much on defense as any other nation. Forty percent (40%) do not think the country needs to spend this much, while 35% are not sure. Interestingly, if the government were to actually spend only three times as much as any other nation, it would imply a significant cut in U.S. defense spending.

For fiscal year 2011, the total budget for defense is estimated to be around $719 billion. That does not include the cost of veterans’ care, which totals another $124 billion. By comparison, no other nation in the world spends more than $110 billion on defense. Earlier polling showed that just 58% recognize that the United States spends more on defense than any other nation in the world.

Underlying voters’ opinions on how much the United States spends on defense is the fact that many don’t know where most of the government’s money already goes. Just 40% can correctly identify that most federal spending goes towards national defense, Social Security and Medicare. Roughly the same number (38%) believes this statement to be false, while another 22% are not sure.

Those numbers have changed little since November. Voters were even less informed in February of last year.

“Anybody who says they want to cut spending must deal with spending on national security, Social Security and Medicare,” says Scott Rasmussen, president of Rasmussen Reports. “This is not an ideological preference; it’s a numerical reality. There is no way to cut government spending without putting these issues on the table.”

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The survey of 1,000 Likely Voters was conducted on January 27, 2011 by Rasmussen Reports. The margin of sampling error is +/- 3 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence. Field work for all Rasmussen Reports surveys is conducted by Pulse Opinion Research, LLC. See methodology.


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