Early this February, the Republican-controlled Congress passed and President Donald Trump signed new federal budget legislation that increased U.S. military spending by $165 billion over the next two years. Remarkably, though, a Gallup public opinion poll, conducted only days before, found that only 33 percent of Americans favored increasing U.S. military spending, while 65 percent opposed it, either backing reductions (34 percent) or maintenance of the status quo (31 percent).
What is even more remarkable for a nation where military spending has grown substantially over the decades, is that, during the past 49 years that Gallup has asked Americans their opinions on U.S. military spending, in only one year (1981) did a majority of Americans (in that case, 51 percent) favor increasing it. During the other years, clear and sometimes very substantial majorities opposed spending more on the military.
Although the Gallup survey appears to be the only one that has covered American attitudes toward military spending in 2018, reports by other polling agencies for earlier years reveal the same pattern. The Pew Research Center, for example, found that, from 2004 to 2016, the percentage of Americans that favored increasing U.S. military spending only ranged from 13 to 35 percent. By contrast, the percentage of Americans that favored decreasing U.S. military spending or continuing it at the same level ranged from 64 to 83 percent.
This opposition to boosting U.S. military spending became even stronger when pollsters provided Americans with information about the actual level of federal government spending and arguments for and against particular programs. In March 2017, before opinion polling began by the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Integrity, it distributed a rough outline of the federal budget and a series of statements about spending programs vetted for fairness by opposing groups. The result was that a majority of survey respondents reported that they favored cutting the military budget by $41 billion.
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