Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

April 1, 2011

ASTOUNDING PUBLIC CONFUSION ABOUT THE BUDGET.... I thought it'd be bad; I didn't think it'd be this bad.

If you think cutting the government's budget is as easy as taking the ax to some unpopular federal programs, a new national poll suggests that you should think again.

According to a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Friday, most Americans think that the government spends a lot more money than it actually does on such unpopular programs as foreign aid and public broadcasting.

The poll asked Americans to guess who much the federal government spends, as a percentage of the total budget, on a variety of areas. The public did relatively well when it came to some of the big-ticket items like Social Security and Medicare.

But on some of the hut-button issues, the public wasn't even close. Americans, for example, think about 10% of the budget goes to "aid to foreign countries for international development and humanitarian assistance." The actual number is about 1%.

Here's an even more entertaining one: Americans think about 5% of the budget goes to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The actual number is about 0.1%. (In dollar figures, the public seems to actually believe the CPB gets $178 billion, as compared to the $420 million it received last year.)

Respondents think 10% of the budget goes to "food and nutrition assistance for the poor," 7% goes to "housing assistance for the poor," and 10% goes to federal funding to education. None of these figures are even close to being right -- federal spending in all of these areas is a small fraction of what the public perceives. (We should be so lucky as to have so much investment in public programs and a strong safety net.)

And best of all, the CNN poll also asked whether existing funding levels should go up or down in all of these areas. My personal favorite: nearly two-thirds of the country believes federal spending on education should go up, and that's after those same Americans have roughly quadrupled in their minds what the feds actually spend in this area.

I wonder what the public reaction would be if voters learned that House Republicans want to make massive cuts to Head Start, Pell grants, and Title I grants (which help schools with kids who live in poverty).

Steve Benen 3:30 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (36)

Bookmark and Share
 
Comments

It's always nice to update this sort of thing, but it is an old, continuing story. There ought to be something that could be done about it, but I'll be damned if I know what.

Posted by: CJColucci on April 1, 2011 at 3:34 PM | PERMALINK

"I wonder what the public reaction would be if voters learned that House Republicans want to make massive cuts to Head Start, Pell grants, and Title I grants (which help schools with kids who live in poverty)."

I wonder what would happen if prominent Democratic leaders might mention things like this to the public?

Let's face it - progressives are in a really tight spot right now. The White House has made it utterly clear that they will NOT fight the GOP. And the Senate leadership is close to that too.

How to handle that dilemma of having your ostensible leader not leading you, is a really tough question.


Posted by: Samuel Knight on April 1, 2011 at 3:38 PM | PERMALINK

It's astounding to see the level of support for increasing public education spending -- just when the fringers are talking about "government-run education." And it's encouraging to see the public uninterested in Paul Ryan's demolition of Medicaid.

It's a shame, however, that the same poll doesn't have a part two, where it tells the person what the real percentage is and asks whether that percentage is too high, not enough or about right.

Posted by: Mark on April 1, 2011 at 3:39 PM | PERMALINK

Um ... Steve? You're having a LOT of typos today.

The poll asked Americans to guess who much the federal government spends ...

But on some of the hut-button issues ...

Not that any of those take away from your point, which is that the GOP is full of lying jackasses who have hoodwinked a willingly ignorant public.

But still ... :-)

Posted by: Mark D on April 1, 2011 at 3:44 PM | PERMALINK

Its easy to mock the igorance of the average citizen but let's be frank; when was the last time anyone in elective office made an honest dispassionate effort to inform the public on what is actully happening in D.C.? As for the MSM, they are hopeless.

Posted by: robert on April 1, 2011 at 3:45 PM | PERMALINK

Almost all public spending goes to senior citizens and military. oh hey, the 2 most reliably republican voting blocs.

Posted by: glutz78 on April 1, 2011 at 3:47 PM | PERMALINK

This is a good example to show that it is not our values that divide the country, but what we know or believe to be true.

Posted by: Danp on April 1, 2011 at 3:47 PM | PERMALINK

The ignorance of the American people is astounding. Most really don't want to spend the time to understand the issues. I try to do my part explaining but it is very frustrating.

Posted by: edr on April 1, 2011 at 3:52 PM | PERMALINK

wonder what the public reaction would be if voters learned that House Republicans want to make massive cuts to Head Start, Pell grants, and Title I grants (which help schools with kids who live in poverty)

Perhaps we should tell them.

Posted by: fourlegsgood on April 1, 2011 at 3:52 PM | PERMALINK

It's astounding to see the level of support for increasing public education spending -- just when the fringers are talking about "government-run education."

You know why? because most parents are actually involved in their children's education. They go to parent's night and school board meetings. They vote for their school boards, etc. etc.

They do not see public education as a big vast government enterprise. It's all local.

Posted by: fourlegsgood on April 1, 2011 at 3:54 PM | PERMALINK

Plus ce change, plus c'est la meme chose

Posted by: Jamie on April 1, 2011 at 4:01 PM | PERMALINK

According to an item on DU the teabaggers in congress collect 8 million dollars per year in farm subsidies.

Posted by: j on April 1, 2011 at 4:03 PM | PERMALINK

The flip-side question: What would the budget look like if it were re-allocated the way the public thinks it is?

Would it be so bad/unworkable?

Posted by: Patrick (G) on April 1, 2011 at 4:07 PM | PERMALINK

Hmm, and next you are going to be surprised when a poll shows they average American can't name his/her congress person or one of the senators?

I remember discussing this my freshman year of college - 1975. And that was before the rise of nationwide rightwing disinformation radio. The only national source of misinformation was Paul Harvey.

Posted by: martin on April 1, 2011 at 4:08 PM | PERMALINK

We need to not only educate the children but the adults as well.

Posted by: Silver Owl on April 1, 2011 at 4:14 PM | PERMALINK

As a follow-up to the polling process, the pollster informs those who were polled what the actual figures are in response to each question. When the poll is published, there is a definitive explanation of the facts as they relate to the perception. I know this would require some extra work by the polling company and reduce their profits, but it seems only fair to complete the process. When you take an exam and it is returned to you with the incorrect answers indicated, don't you then want to know the correct answer so you don't make the same mistake again? And, as a teacher, don't you want to know where you could improve your teaching if there is an area in which there are many incorrect answers?

It is not about pointing out the ignorance of the pollees; it is to provide information to improve the process of informing the public. We spend a lot of time here making fun of the uninformed American voters and non-voters. Let's find a way to reverse the ignorance by educating, first, those who were willing to take the poll and expose their mis-informed opinions, then explain in detail what the correct information is.

Laughing and pointing at ignorance doesn't change it. It may just drive it underground.

Posted by: st john on April 1, 2011 at 4:20 PM | PERMALINK

I keep seeing the overestimate of the spending on Foreign Aid, and have thought for a while that maybe the lumpen-proletariat is factoring in Military Aid (Afghanistan, Iraq, and now Libya; Israel and Egypt, and bases in Germany, Japan,etc.) under that category. I'm betting that factoring those in would bring a lot closer to the 10%.

And the galloping prideful innumeracy of much of the population doesn't help matters.

Posted by: MR Bill on April 1, 2011 at 4:26 PM | PERMALINK

The flip-side question: What would the budget look like if it were re-allocated the way the public thinks it is?

Have a mad notion that Congress ought to send out a statement, pie charts, whatever, and let the public send in their divisions for the budget (setting some floors for some programs, i.e. defense, and the non-discretionary budget item).
Then Congress would sum up the submitted budgets..
Insane, yeah, unworkable...But I keep thinking reality would get through to the voters.

Posted by: MR Bill on April 1, 2011 at 4:30 PM | PERMALINK

it's easy to see why, with general ignorance so widespread, that the Republicans can continue to get away with what they do. It's not just FOX, hell, some of these respondents may not be smart enough to even operate a TV. Is it any wonder that the top thing on all the Tea Party/Republican State governments is "Cut Education"? They require an ignorant public to stay in office.

Posted by: T2 on April 1, 2011 at 4:31 PM | PERMALINK

You picked this story up from TPM, a fine source for many things but not necessarily for mathematical accuracy. $420 million is a little more than 0.01% of the federal budget, not 0.1%. Let's not cluck too loudly at other people if we are making the same kind of mistake ourselves.

TPM has now corrected their error in a postscript, after readers pointed it out. You might want to do the same.

Posted by: tamiasmin on April 1, 2011 at 4:38 PM | PERMALINK

The CNN article claims Americans overstate military spending (estimate 30% when it is really 19%), but it really depends on what you call military spending. The 19% doesn't include the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, for example. Including those brings the cost up to 24% of budget. Including Veteran's Affairs brings it up to 26% of budget. So, I think the American public is actually very close in their estimate of how much we spend on defense.

Posted by: Greg on April 1, 2011 at 4:44 PM | PERMALINK

The results of this poll are a direct indictment of journalists -- print and broadcast -- who do such a piss poor job of informing the public.

I look forward to network and print media executives being first against the wall when the revolution comes.

Posted by: karen marie on April 1, 2011 at 4:53 PM | PERMALINK

karen marie: see my comment, above:
st john on April 1, 2011 at 4:20 PM
Use the polling results to shift the level of awareness by following up with those polled, with the correct information. Publish the results of the poll with the accurate information. At least the polled people may be informed, if they choose to believe in facts. Then, follow-up with them in a subsequent poll, asking the same questions, and see how they do. We then get an idea of who is actually listening and is authentically interested in the facts.

Posted by: st john on April 1, 2011 at 5:02 PM | PERMALINK

Hey ... this is just the common sense understanding of things by good, honest, hard-working, uninformed Americans. You know, the people who form their opinions based on chain e-mails and political rhetoric and shards plucked from talk radio and sketchy memories of something they saw on TV, rather than hard facts.

The fact that so many people have the IMPRESSION that budget allocations are so much different then they really ARE just shows how pervasive and enduring the conservative propaganda has been against these particular targets.

But if you ask these same people about the size of the subsidies and tax breaks that go to oil companies, I bet that you would hear crickets. They wouldn't even have a basis for a guess. Because their particular information sources are silent about that.

Posted by: Bokonon on April 1, 2011 at 5:03 PM | PERMALINK

ASTOUNDING PUBLIC IGNORANCE AND STUPIDITY ABOUT THE BUDGET

Fixed the title for you!

Here we have more access than anywhere on the planet to the information super highway! Does it show? Not one bit!

Posted by: Trollop on April 1, 2011 at 5:10 PM | PERMALINK

Actually, this proves that the government is extremely EFFICIENT in its use of taxpayer funds, if everyone thinks that these programs operate on 10X-50X of what they actually use.

Too bad the same can't be said of Defense.

Posted by: bdop4 on April 1, 2011 at 5:17 PM | PERMALINK

More than 50% believe that foreign aid, government pensions, food stamps, CPB and housing assistance for the poor make up 47% of the federal budget !
Of course, they probably think the total budget should add up to 110% since that's what athletes give on the playing field !

Posted by: H-Bob on April 1, 2011 at 5:18 PM | PERMALINK

I'm sure those numbers are completely wrong about NPR, I know they get $178 billion...

Posted by: Craig Lessor on April 1, 2011 at 5:26 PM | PERMALINK

It can't be too surprising to learn that a public that has no idea how much the gov. spends on anything also has no idea what the Republicans are trying to do. In their minds, the Republicans are trying to create jobs by stopping spending on things they don't like (such as foreign aid).

Posted by: walldon on April 1, 2011 at 5:33 PM | PERMALINK

Honest question for everyone.

The White House has made it utterly clear that they will NOT fight the GOP.

Yes, but why is that? What possible political good -- never mind policy -- can come from Obama giving in to all $70 billion in cuts the Rethugs demand -- as Joe Conason points out today he's done already? Really. So help me, I can't figure it out.

What's in it for Obama except (1) further alienating his base; (2) ensuring a prolonged economic recession will worsen; (3) tanking the housing market even more deeply; and (4) putting the hurt on the middle class, poor folk, children, and sick people. I cannot fathom how the WH calculates this can help anyone.

Out here in the real America it sure looks like Obama is way, way out of touch. Going along with these Tea Party crazies isn't going to help reelect him. All it can do is ensure he'll get a primary challenge.

Posted by: John B. on April 1, 2011 at 5:40 PM | PERMALINK

So the cnn anchor shows a segment with interviews of people on the street to illustrate the polling. So far so good, then she says the real budget busters are defense, social security, medicare and medicaid. And asks what are they doing about social security it wasn't even in the President's budget!

Posted by: laura on April 1, 2011 at 6:33 PM | PERMALINK

For many years, I have encountered stubborn and prideful resistance to paying attention to the government. People say that all politicians are liars and there is nothing that an individual can do anyway, so why waste time.
It isn't that just that people might not have time to keep up or be too lazy, some deeply feel their ignorance gives them moral superiority.
oldswede

Posted by: oldswede on April 1, 2011 at 6:42 PM | PERMALINK

NPR unpopular? That's news to me. (slight pun)

Posted by: fry1laurie on April 1, 2011 at 8:02 PM | PERMALINK

Willful, proud ignorance. I wouldn't mind so much what they do and believe if it didn't screw up life for the rest of us -- but it does. Forget urine tests. There should be a basic reality quiz before people can vote, work for a TV or radio news/"news" show, or hold elective office.

Posted by: PEA on April 1, 2011 at 8:38 PM | PERMALINK

Respondents think 10% of the budget goes to "food and nutrition assistance for the poor," 7% goes to "housing assistance for the poor," and 10% goes to federal funding to education. None of these figures are even close to being right -- federal spending in all of these areas is a small fraction of what the public perceives.

OK, so those figures are not right - but how far not right are they?

Posted by: Tom on April 1, 2011 at 8:55 PM | PERMALINK

Some years ago the CATO institute found that approximately 35% of Americans could be classified as "know nothings" ignorant of basic civic facts (the name of the VP, the names of their two senators, the party in charge of the House and so on.)

CATO's conclusion was to use this finding to argue for smaller government (of course!) They reasoned that the Federal government is too big and complicated for people to comprehend; the US couldn't have the knowledgeable electorate that the Founding Father's assumed.

I draw a different conclusion. I think the Feds should fund the No Citizen Left Behind program to reduce ignorance in the electorate. They could start by publicizing the Federal Budget. Over and over and over, of course, because it will take many repetitions to permeate these dense skulls.


Posted by: PTate in MN on April 1, 2011 at 9:17 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

Read Jonathan Rowe remembrance and articles
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

Advertise in WM



buy from Amazon and
support the Monthly