Size Matters: What Do Americans Think of the Military Budget?

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With Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel having released his plan for military spending cuts this week, it’s an ideal time to examine America’s stance on military spending. It turns out the nation is positioned (appropriately) in the at ease stance, with it’s weight distributed rather evenly on the issue. According to a Gallup poll taken early February of 2014, the nation doesn’t tend to be polarized over military spending, with 35 percent saying that spending is about right, 28 percent saying it’s too little, and 37 percent saying it’s too much.

According to Gallup, opinions on over-spending have previously showed the most concern during times when military activity hit highs. For example, in 1969 and the early 1970s, during the height of America’s investment in the Vietnam war, 52 percent of Americans said that the military was spending too much. Fifty percent said the same in 1990, following major military expenditures under Reagan and Bush, with 44 percent saying so during George W. Bush’s last year in office, with wars in Afghanistan and Iraq having been major expenses during his time in office. The flip side of this would be an American public concerned over too little spending on the nations military, and that sentiment was more prevalent closely following elections that had emphasized such a need. For example, in January of 1981, this was the sentiment when Reagan had just been elected on a campaign that pressed for greater military spending.

Unsurprisingly, Democrats and independents have historically been more likely to believe military spending needed reduction, with Republicans tending to think the reverse. Gallup’s February poll of this year showed 51 percent of Democrats consider Defense spending too high; 37 percent of Independents, and 20 percent of Republicans believed the same.

On the reverse, 15 percent of Democrats, 26 percent of Independents, and 49 percent of Republicans considered spending too low — views that Gallup says are “not extreme on either side of the political equation, with slightly more than half of Democrats saying there is too much spending, and 49 percent of Republicans saying there is too little.” This is certainly true compared to 1990, when 50 percent believed the U.S. spent too much on the military, and 9 percent believed too little.

A majority of Americans are still highly confident of the U.S.’s military strength internationally, with 53 percent putting it at number one, and with 44 percent saying it’s merely one of several of the leading military powers in 2014. Party membership falls similarly in their views of military might — 57 percent of Republicans, 49 percent of independents, and 58 percent of Democrats all putting the U.S. as number one in the world; while 41 percent of Republicans, 48 percent of independents, and 41 percent of Democrats saying it’s only one of a number of the world’s strongest militaries.

One of the biggest splits seen in recent years was back in 2010 when 64 percent put the U.S. at the top, and 34 percent said it was not, according to Gallup. It is likely that opinion will shift once more if Hagel’s spending plan progresses as outlined, moving towards conservative views of America’s military, with some concerned that the funding for national defense has dropped to low.

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