WASHINGTON — Most Americans want government austerity, a survey shows, but they also want increased spending on a host of popular programs: education, crime fighting, health care, Social Security, the environment and more. Less for defense, space and foreign aid.
The newly released General Social Survey asked people whether they believe spending in specific categories is "too much," "too little" or "about right." It covers the public's shifting priorities from 1973 through 2012.
"Despite a dislike of taxes, more people have always favored increases in spending than cuts," wrote the survey's director, Tom W. Smith, of the independent research organization NORC at the University of Chicago.
While people's priorities shift over the years, they've not changed on one category. Foreign aid has been stuck firmly in last place since the survey began. Last year, 65 percent of those surveyed thought there was "too much," 25 percent checked "about right" and a slim 11 percent said "too little." The numbers are not much changed from 1973 — when 73 percent said too much on foreign aid, 22 percent just right and 5 percent too little.
Various polls have consistently shown the public believes foreign aid is a far bigger slice of the spending pie than it actually is.
Foreign aid amounts to loose change, hovering for years at 1 percent or less of the federal budget, compared with defense spending and "entitlement" programs like Social Security and Medicare. The survey shows the public is largely opposed to cuts in entitlement programs but tilts toward cuts in defense.
On other issues: Most Americans in the poll favored increased spending for assistance to the poor (64 percent), improving the nation's health (61 percent) and Social Security (56 percent). Most also favored greater spending on domestic and social issues including education (76 percent), developing alternative energy sources (62 percent), reducing the crime rate (59 percent), improving the environment (57 percent) and dealing with drug addiction (56 percent).