July 16, 2012 - A unique survey conducted by the Program for Public Consultation, the Stimson Center, and the Center for Public Integrity has found that substantial cuts to the defense budget are favored by majorities in both Red and Blue districts, as well as majorities in districts that benefit from high levels of defense spending.
In conducting this study, a representative sample of Americans were shown the 2012 defense budget from different perspectives and presented with arguments that experts make for and against cutting defense spending in 2013. Working online, they were then able to specify their preferred defense spending level.
Among those living in Red districts (i.e. ones represented by a Republican), 74% favored cutting defense; in Blue districts (represented by a Democrat), 80% favored cuts.
Overall, respondents living in districts benefiting from the highest level of defense spending were no less willing to cut than those in districts benefiting from much lower levels of defense spending. Three quarters of respondents in the top 10% of beneficiary districts favored reductions, and their average cut slightly exceeded that of the full sample. Overall there was no statistical correlation between the level of defense spending in a district and the level of support for defense cuts.
"The idea that Americans' would want to keep total defense spending up so as to preserve local jobs is not supported by the data," comments Steven Kull, who is director of PPC and took the lead role in designing the survey.
When respondents were presented with information about the amount budgeted for the nine major areas of the defense budget and given the chance to make changes as they saw fit, majorities from both Red and Blue districts made cuts in eight of the nine areas.
Differences between Red and Blue districts appear in the size of the cuts. For all areas combined, people in Blue districts supported larger reductions in defense spending, 22% on average, while respondents in Red districts cut an average of 15%. Overall, respondents composed a defense budget for 2013 that was significantly smaller than for 2012, with an average cut of 18%.
"Americans' views as expressed in this survey are a big reason why policymakers -- after the election -- are likely to tighten the Pentagon's strategy and cut national defense spending more deeply," remarked Stimson's Matthew Leatherman.
Missile defense was the area with the biggest discrepancy in percentage terms. Respondents in Blue districts cut it by 21% on average, while those in Red districts cut just 9%. Spending on existing naval forces was the biggest discrepancy in dollar terms. Blue districts cut an average of $21 billion, while respondents in Red districts cut $11 billion.
At the same time respondents in Red districts were a bit more ready to cut health care benefits for military families and retirees (average $7.4 billion) than were those in Blue districts ($6.6 billion).
The study was conducted by the Program for Public Consultation (PPC) in collaboration with the Stimson Center's Budgeting for Foreign Affairs and Defense program and the Center for Public Integrity's National Security program. The study was fielded over April 13 to 19 with a representative sample of 665 American adults who are part of the nationwide panel of Knowledge Networks (margin of error plus or minus 3.8%, adding a design effect plus or minus 4.8%).
A unique feature of the survey involved giving respondents a series of standard arguments for and against cutting spending, overall and for each area of defense spending. These arguments were developed in consultation with experts, including advocates for opposite positions. In all cases both sets of arguments were found convincing by substantial majorities, suggesting that these arguments were strong and respondents considered them seriously.
The survey was conducted using the web-enabled KnowledgePanelÂ®, a probability-based panel designed to be representative of the U.S. population. Initially, participants are chosen scientifically by a random selection of telephone numbers and residential addresses. Persons in selected households are then invited by telephone or by mail to participate in the web-enabled KnowledgePanel®. For those who agree to participate, but do not already have Internet access, Knowledge Networks provides a laptop and ISP connection. More technical information is available at http://www.knowledgenetworks.com/ganp/reviewer-info.html.
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