Perceptions of "Too Much" Military Spending at 15-Year High

by Joseph Carroll

More Americans also say the military is not strong enough

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- The public's view that the federal government is spending too much on the military has increased substantially this year, to its highest level in more than 15 years. Gallup's annual World Affairs poll finds more than 4 in 10 Americans now saying the government is spending too much for national defense and the military. Despite this, in recent years, Americans have also become increasingly likely to say the nation's military is not strong enough, with slightly less than half currently expressing this sentiment. Republicans are slightly more likely than Democrats to say the country's military is currently not strong enough; Democrats are much more inclined to feel the government spends too much on the military.

While the results for these two questions seem to conflict with one another, it is quite possible that Americans are discouraged about the amount of money the government is spending on the war in Iraq and think the war is spreading the country's armed forces too thin to combat another enemy that might arise in the future.

Government Spending on the Military and Defense

The Feb. 1-4 poll finds that 43% of Americans believe the government is spending too much for national defense and military purposes, while 35% say the government is spending the right amount and 20% say too little. The percentage of Americans saying the government is spending too much on defense has increased by 11 points over the past year and is now at its highest level since 1990.

The results for this question have fluctuated significantly over the years. In the late 1960s and 1970s, Americans generally believed the government was spending too much on defense and the military. Gallup trends document a brief shift in opinions on this following Ronald Reagan's inauguration in 1981, when about half of Americans said the government was spending too little on defense. But during the rest of Reagan's administration and much of the 1990s, at least a plurality of Americans once again felt the government was spending too much on defense.

The U.S. war on terrorism, initiated with the October 2001 invasion of Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks, may mark the beginning of another phase of public opinion on this question. In this phase -- in contrast to two polls conducted in the summer of 2000 and winter of 2001 -- Americans have been less likely to say the United States is spending too little on defense. In 2002 through 2006 polling, a plurality of Americans said the United States was spending about the right amount, but this year, as dissatisfaction with the Iraq war has grown, the plurality has shifted into the "spending too much" column.

The latest poll finds Democrats, at 58%, much more likely than Republicans, at only 18%, to say the government is spending too much on the military. This is higher among both groups in comparison with last year's survey, when 47% of Democrats and just 12% of Republicans felt the government was spending too much. Recent trends, dating back to the start of the Bush administration in 2001, show Democrats consistently more likely than Republicans to say the government is spending too much on the military. However, the difference between the two groups has grown significantly since 2002.

Strength of National Defense

When asked if the country's national defense is "stronger now than it needs to be, not strong enough, or about right at the present time," 46% of Americans say the country's defense is not strong enough, 43% say it is about right, and 8% say it is stronger than necessary. Over the past several years, the percentage of Americans saying national defense is not strong enough has been gradually increasing, and it is now at its highest level, albeit by only a few points, since Gallup first asked this question in 1984.

Historically, Americans have been most inclined to say the nation's defense is about right, with this percentage ranging between 43% and 64% since 1984. But there have been two exceptions to this general pattern: shortly after George W. Bush's inauguration in 2001 and the current poll. In those polls, Americans were almost evenly divided as to whether the national defense was about right or not strong enough. Few Americans have ever told Gallup that the country's defense is stronger than needed.

Republicans (52%) are slightly more likely than independents (42%) or Democrats (45%) to say the country's national defense is not strong enough. Democrats and independents are about equally likely to say the nation's defense is not strong enough as to say it is about right.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,007 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Feb. 1-4, 2007. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

21. There is much discussion as to the amount of money the government in Washington should spend for national defense and military purposes. How do you feel about this? Do you think we are spending too little, about the right amount, or too much?

 

Too little

About right

Too much

No opinion

%

%

%

%

2007 Feb 1-4

20

35

43

2

2006 Feb 6-9

25

40

32

3

2005 Feb 7-10

30

38

30

2

2004 Feb 9-12

22

45

31

2

2003 Feb 3-6

25

44

27

4

2002 Feb 4-6

33

48

17

2

2001 Feb 1-4

41

38

19

2

2000 Aug 24-27

40

34

20

6

2000 May 18-21

31

44

22

3

1999 May 7-9

28

35

32

5

1998 Nov 20-22

26

45

22

7

1993 Mar 29-31

17

38

42

3

1990 Jan 4-7

9

36

50

5

1987 Apr 10-13

14

36

44

6

1986 Mar 4-10

13

36

47

4

1985 Jan 25-28

11

36

46

7

1983 Sep 9-12

21

36

37

6

1982 Nov 5-8

16

31

41

12

1981 Jan 27

51

22

15

12

1976 Jan 23-26

22

32

36

10

1973 Sep 21-24

13

30

46

11

1971 Mar 11-14

11

31

50

8

1969 Nov 12-17

8

31

52

9

22. Do you, yourself, feel that our national defense is stronger now than it needs to be, not strong enough, or about right at the present time?

 

Stronger than
needs to be

Not strong
enough

About
right

No
 opinion

%

%

%

%

2007 Feb 1-4

8

46

43

2

2006 Feb 6-9

7

43

47

3

2005 Feb 7-10

9

40

49

2

2004 Feb 9-12

10

34

54

2

2003 Feb 3-6 ^

13

34

52

1

2002 Feb 4-6

6

43

50

1

2001 Feb 1-4

7

44

48

1

2000 May 18-21

6

38

55

1

2000 Jan 13-16

6

39

52

3

1999 May 7-9

7

42

48

3

1990 Jan 4-7

16

17

64

3

1984 †

15

36

46

3

 

 

 

 

^ Asked of a half sample

† Gallup/Newsweek

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