Poll: Support For Budget Cuts Increases, But Cuts Remain Unpopular

02/11/2011 03:40 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

According to a new survey released Thursday, public support for cutting specific areas of the federal budget is higher than it was in 2009, but such cuts remain unpopular overall.

The Pew Research Center poll found an across-the-board increase in support for cutting budget areas that it asked about both in the new poll and in their previous survey conducted in June 2009. Even after the increase in support for cuts, however, no specific budget cut proposed in the Pew poll found majority support. There was a wide range of minority support for various cuts -- while just 6 percent of respondents backed cuts in veterans' benefits, 45 percent supported cutting economic assistance to needy people around the world.

Support for cuts to health care spending grew particularly rapidly, likely as a result of the yearlong debate and subsequent passage of President Barack Obama's signature health care law. In 2009, only 10 percent wanted to cut health care spending, whereas 24 percent said such cuts in the new survey. In addition, support for increasing spending on health care fell from 61 percent to 41 percent. Another 30 percent said they would prefer for health care spending to remain the same.

Support for cutting government assistance for the unemployed also grew, from 15 percent in 2009 to 28 percent in 2011. Slightly more respondents to the poll said they supported cutting unemployment assistance than supported increasing assistance, although a plurality of 41 percent also said they preferred for spending in this area to remain the same. The largest change in support for cutting unemployment assistance came from Republicans. Only 26 percent of Republicans said they wanted to cut unemployment spending in 2009, but that number grew to 50 percent in the new poll.

As is typical of public polling on budget cuts, this survey showed particular public reluctance to cut spending on the entitlement programs that make up a large portion of the federal budget. According to Pew, 41 percent of respondents actually wanted to increase spending on Social Security and 40 percent supported increasing Medicare spending, while 43 percent said spending for each program should remain the same. For Medicare, there was a drop in support for increasing spending from 53 percent in 2009. Pew did not ask respondents about Social Security spending in their 2009 poll. Other recent polls have found a similar pattern of respondents supporting spending cuts in theory but not supporting most specific proposed cuts.

Support for a cut in military and defense spending grew from 18 percent to 30 percent, though it was the only budget area for which a significantly smaller percentage of self-identified Republicans supported cuts than Democrats or independents -- only 18 percent of Republican respondents said they would support cutting military funds.

The most popular cut, according to the poll, was for "economic assistance to needy people around the world." Forty-five percent of total respondents and 70 percent of Republicans said they would cut that assistance, but among all respondents, 50 percent still said they would either increase assistance or keep it the same.

Overall, 49 percent of respondents to the survey said reducing the budget deficit is more important than spending to help the economy recover, whereas 46 percent said spending to help the economy was more important. This was true even though this question came after the string of questions about decreasing spending on specific budget areas, none of which garnered more than 45 percent support.

The poll was conducted Feb. 2-7 among 1,385 adults, and the margin of error for all adults is 3.5 percentage points. Error margins for subgroups by party are larger. The full report is available here.

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