As the leadership of both major parties works together to avoid any serious cut in defense spending, and while Leon Panetta is going around lying about how even the modest cuts being proposed will “devastate” our national security, an interesting new survey shows strong support in the citizenry for much deeper cuts.
While politicians, insiders, and experts may be divided over how much the government should spend on the nation’s defense, there’s a surprising consensus among the public about what should be done: They want to cut spending far more deeply than either the Obama Administration or the Republicans.
That’s according to the results of an innovative, new, nationwide survey by the Center for Public integrity, the Program for Public Consultation, and the Stimson Center. Not only does the public want deep cuts, it wants those cuts to encompass spending in virtually every military domain — air power, sea power, ground forces, nuclear weapons, and missile defenses.
According to the survey, in which respondents were told about the size of the budget as well as shown expert arguments for and against spending cuts, two-thirds of Republicans and nine in 10 Democrats supported making immediate cuts — a position at odds with the leaderships of both political parties.
The average total cut was around $103 billion, a substantial portion of the current $562 billion base defense budget, while the majority supported cutting it at least $83 billion. These amounts both exceed a threatened cut of $55 billion at the end of this year under so-called “sequestration” legislation passed in 2011, which Pentagon officials and lawmakers alike have claimed would be devastating.
“When Americans look at the amount of defense spending compared to spending on other programs, they see defense as the one that should take a substantial hit to reduce the deficit,” said Steven Kull, director of the Program for Public Consultation and the lead developer of the survey. “Clearly the polarization that you are seeing on the floor of the Congress is not reflective of the American people.”
A broad disagreement with the Obama Administration’s current spending approach — keeping the defense budget mostly level — was shared by 75 percent of men and 78 percent of women, all of whom instead backed immediate cuts. That view was also shared by at least 69 percent of every one of four age groups from 18 to 60 and older, although those aged 29 and below expressed much higher support, at 92 percent.
Disagreement with the Obama administration’s continued spending on the war in Afghanistan was particularly intense, with 85 percent of respondents expressing support for a statement that said in part, “it is time for the Afghan people to manage their own country and for us to bring our troops home.” A majority of respondents backed an immediate cut, on average, of $38 billion in the war’s existing $88 billion budget, or around 43 percent.
Despite the public’s distance from Obama’s defense budget, the survey disclosed an even larger gap between majority views and proposals by House Republicans this week to add $3 billion for an extra naval destroyer, a new submarine, more missile defenses, and some weapons systems the Pentagon has proposed to cancel. Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney has similarly endorsed a significant rise in defense spending.
I like this approach to a survey. Too often you can easily skew the results with the way a question is phrased. When dealing with a question like this, you would likely get a significantly different result if you asked “Do you support deep cuts to America’s national defenses?” rather than “Do you support reducing the $562 billion we currently spend on the military?” And most people responding would likely have no idea how much we actually do spend, what percentage that is of the total budget, what it’s actually spent on, or what the arguments are on either side. They would filter their answer through a prism of being either “strong” or “weak” on defense.
But if you give them the basic facts and then give them the strongest arguments on both sides to consider before answering, you’re more likely to get a considered response instead of an ignorant one. Either way, the result is clearly out of step with the two major parties, both of which sell ignorance-based fear on behalf of the military-industrial complex.