The Cutting is the Hardest Part

In survey after survey and focus group after focus group voters tell us that the federal government spends too much money. On that, the vast majority of voters agree. The hard part comes when we ask voters what programs should be cut. Typically, they focus on items that represent very small portions of the federal budget, such as foreign aid. The always popular plan to “cut waste, fraud, and abuse,” is also frequently cited.

However, as avid budget watchers know, reducing foreign aid and eliminating the waste, fraud, and abuse in the federal budget would make only a very small dent in the budget as a whole. Thus, the key question for deficit hawks and advocates for smaller government and reduced spending is what types of federal spending can be cut that will have a real impact on the budget, while also being politically tenable.

In the most recent edition of the always enlightening poll of 18-29 year olds from the Harvard Institute of Politics and Knowledge Networks, they used an interesting and unique methodology to see what types of government programs millennials would be open to cutting or reducing. The full methodology is provided at the end of this post, but the short version of what they did is provide respondents with head-to head match ups of twelve potential ways of reducing the federal deficit, ask respondents which of the two they preferred.

The various options are ranked below, in order of MOST preferred.

Option for Reducing the Federal Deficit % Prefer this option/
% Prefer other option
Cut foreign economic aid in half 71% prefer this/
22% prefer other
Reduce spending related to the nuclear arsenal by reducing U.S. nuclear warheads from approximately 2,000 to approximately 1,550 70% prefer this/
23% prefer other
Enact the “Buffet Rule,” a requirement that people making over one million dollars a year pay at least 30% of their income in taxes 69% prefer this/
24% prefer other
Reduce food stamp levels to 2008 levels and limit growth in spending on food stamps to the rate of inflation 58% prefer this/
36% prefer other
Reduce U.S. Navy fleet to 230 ships from a projected 320 ships 51% prefer this/
41% prefer other
Increase the gas tax by six cents per gallon 44% prefer this/
49% prefer other
Raise the retirement age for Social Security from 65 to 68 41% prefer this/
52% prefer other
Significantly reduce the Earned Income Tax Credit and offset to payroll taxes for low-income workers with children and the child tax credit 38% prefer this/
54% prefer other
Reduce Social Security benefits, except for workers who earn below the 30th percentile of earners 33% prefer this/
60% prefer other
Increase the gas tax by 15 cents 32% prefer this/
61% prefer other
Raise Medicare premiums to 35% of costs 28% prefer this/
64% prefer other
Cut federal K-12 funding by 25% 22% prefer this/
71% prefer other

Before we look at some of the key takeaways from this data, one important note. The format of these questions is what is known as a forced choice. In other words, the respondent HAD to choose one or the other. That means that the “prefer this” number should NOT be interpreted the same away as a favor/oppose number. In other words, the 44% “prefer this” number for increasing the gas tax by six cents does not mean that 44% of millennials FAVOR increasing the gas tax.

With that caveat, some key takeaways:

  • Younger voters are open to cuts in military spending. Two of the five options that a majority preferred dealt with some aspect of military spending.
  • The “Buffet Rule” polls well at a national level, and those strong numbers are matched by the numbers among 18-29 year olds. There is substantial support for making sure millionaires pay at least 30% of their income in taxes.
  • Entitlement reform remains a thorny issue. Millennials largely rejected the changes to Social Security and Medicaid that were tested.
  • On the increase in the gas tax, a six cent increase produced a fairly divided result, while a 15 cent increase is a non-starter
  • Due to their age, respondents are not as likely to have kids of their own, but cuts to K-12 funding was still the least appealing of the options tested.

Reducing government spending is a winning issue for Republicans with all subgroups, including younger voters. However, it is also an issue where the devil is in the details, and the types of programs that voters are open to making cuts to often don’t match up to the types of programs Republicans are thinking about. As Republicans continue to consider various approaches to reducing spending, they should also utilize survey data to assess the impact these approaches will have at the ballot box.

Similar Articles

  • Public Opinion Strategies Congratulates Karen Handel on Winning GA-06
    read more

  • The Democrats’ Pivot
    read more

  • ARE AMERICANS “OVER” PRESIDENT OBAMA?
    read more

  • POS IN THE NEWS – DECEMBER 13, 2013
    read more

  • POS IN THE NEWS – December 6, 2013
    read more

Public Opinion Strategies helped us to clarify what we wanted to learn and then conducted research and analysis that shed light even beyond the questions we set out to ask. They were very receptive to our suggestions, responsive to our queries, and flexible when we needed them to be.

Public Opinion Strategies has consistently offered unparalleled advice and spot-on polling that has shaped how and where we spent money and deploy key resources. Additionally, they have always been an excellent steward of limited campaign resources, ensuring we spend wisely and not a dollar more than necessary in order to get the information we need.

Robert Blizzard and Public Opinion Strategies did a great job for us throughout our successful campaign for Congress. Robert gave us accurate data, spot on analysis, and professional advice, all of which were essential to our victory.

Public Opinion Strategies is one of our go-to pollsters when it comes to testing public support for bond ballot measures and other initiative proposals. They are available to provide ongoing consultation with regard to crafting of ballot questions, public outreach messaging, and related efforts.

ACLI has worked with Public Opinion Strategies for decades, through several tough industry battles—often ones in which public opinion does not naturally fall on the side of insurers. Yet Bill and his team consistently provide invaluable strategic advice by refining our messages and helping us frame our issues in a way that makes them understandable and persuasive.

The data from Public Opinion Strategies provided important insight and informed our public awareness campaign. We sincerely appreciate their professionalism and expertise in this arena.

Nicole McCleskey and the team at Public Opinion Strategies have been invaluable to me, both during my campaigns and as Governor of the State of New Mexico. It’s not just the accuracy of their numbers, but guiding the overall strategy that makes them so valuable.

Public Opinion Strategies has been a part of our team in Missouri for more than a decade. With their data and guidance, Republicans here were able to attain a majority in the House in 2002 for the first time in fifty years, and we have been able to grow that majority to the point that we now have a record, veto-proof majority.

In my tenure at two leading business associations, facing huge and complex consumer issues, I have benefitted enormously from the objective advisory skills of Bill and his team. They do their homework, they are rigorous, dispassionate and thoughtful. Turning questions into answers is a clever tag, but it’s also an apt description of the professional talents of the firm.

I consider Public Opinion Strategies to be a part of our team. That is the way we have always worked. They have helped us to understand our needs and fashioned research solutions to meet those needs. They have helped us to meet killer deadlines by being flexible, executing rapidly, and insuring quality. Teamwork is the best way to describe it.

Accuracy, speed, and deep knowledge of key issues and public sentiment are the hallmarks of quality opinion research, and on these measures Public Opinion Strategies consistently delivers. I have had the pleasure of working with Public Opinion Strategies for more than 15 years on dozens of issues, and they are undoubtedly the gold standard.

Public Opinion Strategies’ track record of success and wealth of experience in political campaigns and issue advocacy are why they are one of the most trusted and well respected public opinion firms in Washington, D.C. Their insights and perspectives have helped to inform a wide array of public affairs activities across multiple industries.