CNN Poll: Cutting biggest govt. spending programs off the table
January 25th, 2011
04:48 PM ET
11 years ago

CNN Poll: Cutting biggest govt. spending programs off the table

Washington (CNN) - When it comes to cutting the nation's budget deficit and putting a dent in the country's massive debt, a new poll suggests Americans have a split personality.

Full results (pdf)

A CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Tuesday indicates that while the public overwhelmingly favors a smaller federal government, they also overwhelming oppose making cuts to the big targets - the federal programs that account for much of the government's spending.

According to the poll, just over seven in ten Americans favor a legislative agenda that would reduce the size of the government, with one in four saying they oppose such a move.

But it seems that most Americans would prefer that the biggest government spending programs are off the table. The survey indicates that more than seven in ten Americans say that deficit reduction is less important than preventing cuts in Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, education programs and veterans' benefits. At least six in ten feel the same way about unemployment benefits and roads and mass transit.

So what would Americans cut? According to the poll a majority says the deficit is more important than foreign aid, government pensions, and welfare. Some congressional Republicans say that they won't consider cuts in defense spending, but the public is split on that, with 50 percent saying that deficit reduction is more important than defense spending and 49 percent saying that preventing cuts in defense spending is more important than deficit reduction.

According to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the items tested in the poll represent the 10 spending categories with the highest outlays in 2010, ranging from Social Security and national defense, which represent roughly one in five federal dollars spent, down to education and transportation, which account for approximately two to three percent of the government's outlays. CNN also included foreign aid in its list because some previous polls have shown this to be the most unpopular federal program, although it represents less than one half of one percent of the federal budget.

"According to the OMB data, the three items that a majority of the public is willing to cut - federal pensions, welfare, and foreign aid - may account for about 13 to 15 percent of total federal outlays in 2010. That appears to leave about 85 percent of the federal budget off-limits in the public's mind," says CNN Polling Director Keating Holland. "Add in defense spending and the programs that the public may be willing to cut goes up to roughly a third of the total budget, with about two-thirds still off the table."

The CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll was conducted Jan. 21-23, with 1,012 adult Americans questioned by telephone. The survey's overall sampling error is plus or minus three percentage points.

CNN Deputy Political Deputy Director Paul Steinhauser contributed to this report

Filed under: CNN Polls • Deficit • Polls
soundoff (14 Responses)
  1. Dutch/Bad Newz, VA - John "The Weeper of the House" Boehner

    Cut the defense budget. Make cuts in agriculture. But saty the heck away from Medicare & SSI. Carry on!

    January 25, 2011 04:52 pm at 4:52 pm |
  2. Protect and Defend Freedom of Speech in the USA

    Of course people always want the other persons ox gored! They always think somebody else should pay for their benefits, after all "it's only fair" because they're "poor" and the other person is "rich".

    Well, time to pay the piper for all these decades of living beyond our means in this Democrat "great society"! All the bills have come due. Either pay them with sacrifice by EVERYBODY or watch the whole house of cards come crashing down, leaving everybody with nothing. The choice is yours America.

    January 25, 2011 04:55 pm at 4:55 pm |
  3. John

    What a surprise. For decades, folks have been in favor of reducing government spending, as long as they don't personally feel the sting of the cuts. It's human nature to be in favor of taking away from the other guy. Ask any politician if they'd be willing to give up their government pension and health care. It'll be a rhetorical question if you do.

    January 25, 2011 04:57 pm at 4:57 pm |
  4. TRUTH

    The headline should have read : CNN Poll shows 85% of Americans are not too bright.

    January 25, 2011 05:09 pm at 5:09 pm |
  5. rob

    Its easy to say cut government pension programs when your not a government employee. Why not cut your pension program and see how you feel about having your retirement funds messed with. And yes I am aware that there are companies across the country doing this in attempts to stay operational. I'm not defending the argument against or for the cut. Its just easier to point a finger somewhere and say cut if it doesn't affect you.

    January 25, 2011 05:10 pm at 5:10 pm |
  6. Rickster

    Definitely cut foreign aid, welfare and federal government pensions(including that of congress which they would try to weasel out of). In addition, eliminate the Dept. of Education and the Dept. of Energy, vastly reduce EPA, eliminate all payments to NPR and the National Endowment of the Arts and you would have a good start.

    January 25, 2011 05:30 pm at 5:30 pm |
  7. Nikki

    Welfare cuts. I guess we do want to live in disease-ridden third world conditions.

    January 25, 2011 05:33 pm at 5:33 pm |
  8. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    Republicans need to cut the BS in Washington and focus on jobs instead of complaining and campaigning.

    January 25, 2011 05:42 pm at 5:42 pm |
  9. Obama the socialist

    Democrats are spenders (and taxers) by nature. They won't do anything about spending unless forced to.

    January 25, 2011 06:31 pm at 6:31 pm |
  10. NC

    obama says he wants to cut earmarks, have a 5 year spending freeze, and build the economy. Translation....not cutting the earmarks that have already been written or the ones that democrats have written, 5 year spending freeze on Republican ideas, not democrats spending ideas, and building the economy by writing more hopey changey spending bills.

    January 25, 2011 06:47 pm at 6:47 pm |
  11. paul

    cut congressional benefits and especially pensions (go to limited 401k's) and watch congressmen bailout, defacto term limits will come to pass – we can kill two birds with one stone

    January 25, 2011 07:02 pm at 7:02 pm |
  12. Poser

    To say that Americans have a split personality on the issue of the deficit and debt is too kind. It shows that most Americans don't have a clue about the actual numbers for the budget. In addition to not knowing where the big ticket items are, they don't seem to grasp the difference between millions, billions, and trillions. Cutting a few million dollars from Congressional staff budgets is cheered as a good start but is far less than one tenth of a percent of the total budget. It's symbolic but without substance.

    Defense, social security, Medicare and Medicaid, and the interest on the debt represent about 80% of our federal budget. Unless we are willing to make cuts in those areas, we will need to raise taxes to pay for it. That's just a sad mathematical fact. In my opinion, we should be doing a bit of both. Anybody who thinks we can cut taxes without cutting the big ticket items is saying they want something for nothing (unrealistic at best but it makes conservative voters froth at the mouth with eagerness).

    Cutting taxes reduces revenue so it makes the deficit worse rather than better. The GOP somehow thinks that doesn't matter. If you're trying to balance your personal checkbook, a reduction in pay definitely matters. The same is true for the Government checkbook.

    January 25, 2011 07:16 pm at 7:16 pm |
  13. rob

    First of all I challange this poll. Of course people don't want their stuff cut, and you can make an argument to save every program and spend more $ forever. This is why we need real leaders in Washington who are willing to make the difficult decisions and articulate why its crucial.

    The next two years including the election in 2012 may be the most important in our countries history. If the Dems and the liberal media are succesfull at painting every Republican as a monster for trying to controll our debt than we may not survive as a super power in the world.

    January 25, 2011 07:46 pm at 7:46 pm |
  14. T'sah from Virginia

    America – You can't have your cake and eat it too!!!

    January 25, 2011 08:30 pm at 8:30 pm |