NEW YORK (MainStreet) — Americans may think they are in favor of lower government spending, but that doesn’t mean they know where the cuts should come from.
When shown a list of 20 areas of federal government spending, a majority of the public only supports cutting six of them, keeping big-ticket items like Social Security and health care, according to a new poll conducted by Harris Interactive.
The poll, which surveyed 2,566 adults nationwide online from Jan. 17 to Jan. 24, was conducted just three weeks before President Obama unveiled his $3.73 trillion budget plan to Congress. This plan featured $1.1 trillion in deficit savings, gained primarily through spending cuts on various domestic programs and tax increases for high-income taxpayers.
What it did not call for was a decrease in the funding that goes to the government’s largest entitlement programs – Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. While this has served as a point of contention with Republicans who have criticized the president’s proposal for being too timid, polls indicate that the proposal is in line with the feelings of the American public.
Large majorities of respondents opposed cutting Social Security (80%) and health care (67%), despite the fact that Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid will account for more than 40% of federal spending next year.
In fact, according to the Associated Press, under the president's initial budget proposal these three programs will grow to more than 60% of federal spending by 2035, when baby boomers will be 71 and older.
Additionally, 71% of respondents also opposed cutting federal aid to education (21% support the cut), which was called for in Obama’s budget proposal.
Which programs did the public want to cut, then?
Foreign aid topped the list with 75% of respondents saying they would support slashing foreign economic aid and 69% in favor of cutting military aid to other countries.
The four other types of programs that majorities would like to cut are spending by regulatory agencies (56% in favor to 28% opposed), the space program (54% in favor to 37% opposed), subsidies to business (51% in favor to 37% opposed) and federal welfare spending (51% in favor to 40% opposed).
Of course, Harris noted, most of these programs only constitute a very small portion of the nation’s deficit.
“Cutting government spending, in general, looks very different than the more detailed picture – cutting specific programs,” the market research company explained in a press release. “Many people seem to want to cut down the forest but to keep the trees.”