The public wants a budget that looks very different from Trump’s
President Trump wants to boost the military's budget by billions of dollars. But given the chance, the public — even his fellow Republicans — would do just the opposite, according to a new poll out this week.
President Trump's overview of the budget priorities are displayed at the Government Publishing Office in Washington, on March 16. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)
The University of Maryland's Program for Public Consultation recently asked a nationally representative sample of 1,800 Americans what they'd like to see the country spend on 31 key budgetary categories. Pollsters gave respondents current-year spending levels and asked them how they'd increase or decrease funding.
Now that Trump's budget is out, the poll allows us to pinpoint exactly where the public's budgetary priorities diverge the most from the president's. And there's no greater point of divergence than defense spending.
The Trump administration calls for beefing up defense spending by $52.3 billion dollars next year (with an additional $1.4 billion increase going to nuclear weapons programs at the Department of Energy), and they'deliminate a slew of other agencies and programs to make it deficit-neutral.
But when Maryland's pollsters asked voters, they found that the typical voter would cut defense spending by $41 billion. All told, that adds up to a nearly $100 billion gap between what the public wants to spend on defense, and what Trump wants to spend on it.
Perhaps more surprisingly, not even Republican voters wanted to see a big defense hike. The typical Republican respondent opted to cut defense spending by $5 billion. Democrats would cut it by a whopping $81 billion.
“The gaps between the public’s proposed budget and the Trump administration’s budget are quite substantial,” said survey director Steven Kull of the University of Maryland, “especially when it comes to military spending.”
Trump's big military hikes are in line with his emphasis on national security, as well as his demonstrated fixation with the trappings of the military state: This week the Huffington Post obtained emails showing the administration had looked into the possibility of including tanks and other heavy military equipment in Trump's inaugural parade.
There were gaps between Trump and the public in some other spending categories, but none as pronounced as the gap in military spending.
For instance, Trump has proposed drastic cuts to the Department of Education. This is generally in line with what Republicans would like to see, but Democrats would prefer to beef up education spending.
There's a similar partisan split on funding the State Department — Republicans want cuts similar to what Trump has proposed, while Democrats would prefer to keep spending as it is.
Aside from the military, the Department of Homeland Security is another area where Trump wants to spend more money than either Democrats or Republicans. And, oddly enough, NASA: While Trump proposes cutting the space agency's budget by about $100 million, Democrats and Republicans alike would prefer to see cuts in the neighborhood of $4 billion.
Now, when survey respondents were answering these questions, they were also being told what effect the spending changes would have on the budget deficit. You might quibble with this methodology on the grounds that the consequences of budget deficits are hotly debated, and that framing spending in terms of deficits would distort respondents' preferences.
But respondents weren't required to eliminate the deficit or do anything else with it as part of their questioning — the numbers were included for informational purposes. And it's a simple fact of the current political environment that deficit concerns are central to discussions over how to spend federal money.
The final budget that passes Congress — whenever that may be — is likely to diverge considerably from Trump's blueprint. The question for voters: Will the enacted budget more closely reflect their own priorities, or will it diverge even further?