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Americans want to spend more on education, health

Jan. 10, 2007

Overall, the American public favors more government spending, particularly for education and health, areas that have consistently lead the public’s spending priorities in recent years, according to a new survey from the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago.

The findings come from NORC’s General Social Survey, which asks people for their opinion on a wide variety of subjects, including spending priorities.

When questioned about spending on education for the 2006 survey, 74.1 percent said the government is spending too little, while 5.4 percent felt the government is spending too much, creating an overall score of +68.7. Support for health spending came in second at +66.4.

Other top priorities in spending are assistance to the poor (+62.0), the environment (+61.9), social security (+59.2), dealing with drug addition (+54.8) and halting crime (+54.6).

Near the bottom of the priority ranking, was spending on the military, which has dropped notably since immediately after 9-11. Today, nearly 40 percent of Americans say the country spends too much on armaments and national defense, the survey showed.

The latest survey shows that 26.8 percent of Americans feel the government is spending too little on national defense, while 33.8 percent feel it is spending the right amount and 39.4 percent feel too much is spent, earning military spending a score of -12.6 on the scale. In 2002 spending on military earned a +7.8 on the priority assessment and in 2004 it garnered +7.1

Despite the change, the category of military spending retained its position as number eighteen in a list of 22 possible government spending priorities in the GSS, which is widely used by social scientists in their research.

Tom W. Smith, Director of the GSS, said the drop might reflect growing citizen dissatisfaction with the war in Iraq.

Other categories receiving negative marks and on the bottom of the list were spending on welfare, which at -13.2 percent holds 19th place of the list of 22 priorities. Coming in at 20th place was assistance to big cities, which was -14.5; in 21st place was spending on space exploration, -22.7, and at the bottom was spending on foreign aid -53.8.

“This is foreign aid’s best score, up from -70 to -72 in the early and mid-1990's, but this still leaves it solidly in last place,” Smith said.

The spending preferences reported in the GSS are a guide to how American public opinion has shifted over the years as national priorities have changed. For instance, from 1974 to 1988, halting crime was the perennial top choice, but fell to eighth place in 2006.

Support for spending on social security has increased along with the aging of the population, going from tenth place in 1993 to fifth place in 2006.

Support for spending on the environment grew from fourth in 1984 to first place in 1989. It then fell back to seventh place in 1993, but almost tied for third place in 2006,

The General Social Survey, supported by the National Science Foundation, has been conducted since 1973, and is based on face-to-face interviews of randomly selected people who represent a scientifically accurate cross section of Americans. For the 2006 survey, 2,992 people were interviewed and asked a wide variety of questions in addition to those related to spending priorities.

The GSS asked many of the same questions from year to year in order to determine people's opinions on important issues. Unlike opinion polls, which ask people about topics related to current events, the GSS captures changes in opinion to issues that remain constant in society.

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Last modified at 11:09 AM CST on Monday, July 23, 2007

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