On Thursday, a Pew Research Center poll disproved the Republican talking point that Americans would oppose a deficit reduction plan that links spending cuts to new revenues. Now, a new Pew poll is calling into question the very idea that Americans want to cut spending at all.
Although a bipartisan 70 percent of Americans say it is essential for Congress and the president to pass major legislation reducing the deficit, the new poll, released Friday, shows that Americans actually oppose cutting almost any specific program.
The survey asked 1,504 adults whether they would increase, decrease, or maintain the budgets for 19 government programs. On 18 of the 19, respondents opposed cutting the budgets.
Aid to the world’s needy is the only program for which a plurality of Americans support decreasing spending, and even in that case the total respondents who believe that the aid budget should be increased or kept the same outnumber those who believe it should be reduced. And in any case, cutting foreign aid — which amounts to around 1 percent of the federal budget — won’t go very far towards reducing the deficit.
Although more Republicans than Democrats support cutting spending on 16 of the 19 programs tested, bipartisan majorities oppose decreasing the budget on most of the GOP’s major targets. Republicans support increasing Social Security spending by a 35 to 17 percent margin, while Democrats support it 49 to 3 percent. Raising Medicare spending is favored by 24 percent of Republicans, while 21 percent would like to see it decreased; the margin is 52 to 7 percent among Democrats.
One major exception is health care, for which 44 percent of Republicans want to see the budget slashed, compared to 16 percent who want to see it increased—and 58 percent of Democrats want to increase the health care budget, while just 7 percent want to decrease it.
The survey sheds some light on House Republicans’ strategy on the sequester negotiations. Although GOP leaders have repeatedly slammed President Obama for “threatening [Americans'] jobs because we cannot make even the tiniest cuts” to government spending, as House Majority Leader Eric Cantor put it in a recent tweet, they have refused to explain how—specifically—they want to see the budget cut. Instead, they have demanded that the president take the initiative in proposing unpopular cuts.
“Mr. President, we agree that your sequester is bad policy. What spending are you willing to cut to replace it?” House Speaker John Boehner asked in a Wall Street Journal op-ed Wednesday.
Boehner’s calculus is clear: Although Americans agree with the theoretical idea of cutting the budget, as Paul Ryan learned the hard way, targeting specific programs is usually political malpractice.