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Americans not convinced U.S. needs to spend more on defense

Staff Writer | February 22, 2018
Although the new federal budget significantly increases U.S. defense spending, only a third of Americans believe the government is spending too little on the military.
America Army
America   Americans' attitudes are split
The majority of Americans, as they have for many years, believe the government is spending too much or about the right amount on defense.

These results are based on interviewing conducted February 1-10, just before Congress passed and President Donald Trump signed into law the new budget bill that increased military spending by $75 billion over the next two years.

Americans' attitudes are split almost evenly across three views of the defense budget, with 34% saying the federal government is spending too much on national defense and the military, 33% saying "too little" and 31% saying defense spending is about right.

The percentage of Americans saying the government is spending too little on defense has fluctuated over the 49 years Gallup has asked this question, but those holding the "too little" opinion have been in the minority during that entire period, with one exception.

That came in 1981, as Ronald Reagan took office after his defeat of incumbent Jimmy Carter, when 51% said the U.S. was spending too little. That reflected Reagan's campaign promises to dramatically increase spending on defense.

The "too little" percentage reverted to less than 20% for the most of the 1980s and into the 1990s, with a near-record low of 9% saying too little was being spent in 1990, in the second year of the George H.W. Bush administration.

Americans' perception that the U.S. was spending too little on defense rose at the end of the terms of the two Democratic presidents - Bill Clinton and Barack Obama - who followed the two Bush presidencies, but has never come near the majority level achieved in 1981.

This year, coincident with the end of Republican Donald Trump's first year in the White House, the proportion of Americans saying too little is being spent on defense slipped to 33% from 37% in the previous two years.

One explanation for the public's views on military spending is that Americans believe the U.S. military is already strong.

A separate question shows that about six in 10 Americans say the nation's military is either as strong as or stronger than it needs to be. Thirty-nine percent say it is not strong enough.


 

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