What to Cut when Majorities of Americans Support Most Major Government Services?

NEW YORK , N.Y. – March 4, 2014 – A new Harris Poll finds that large majorities of the public continue to be supportive of many key government services. This continuing sentiment underscores the difficulty our leaders face when attempting to curb government spending, given that nearly any cut under consideration, such as recent defense cuts proposed by U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer (D. NY) will be met with strong resistance from one segment or another. This leaves us, as a nation, with a dilemma: if almost everything is a third rail, where can we look to find fiscal footing?

These are some of the results of The Harris Poll¨ of 2,266 adults surveyed online between February 12 and 17, 2014.

The survey asked about 14 different types of government services and programs, using a list repeated from Harris Polls conducted in 2005, 2008, 2009 and 2011, in order to measure attitudinal shifts over time; Head Start, a program providing assistance to low-income children and their families, was added for 2014.

Some top findings include:

  • The most popular services and programs, supported by 80% or more of the American public, are Medicare (with 90% supporting it either a great deal or somewhat) crimefighting and prevention (89%) Social Security (also 89%) National Parks (83%) defense (82%) and federal aid to public schools (80%).
  • Also supported by large majorities of adults are Medicaid (77%) unemployment benefits (also 77%) environmental protection (76%) Head Start (75%) and intelligence services (71%).
  • Majorities – albeit smaller ones – also support food stamps (63%) and Immigration and Naturalization services (58%).
  • The only program on the list that is not supported by a majority of U.S. adults is foreign aid, with only 35% supporting it.

Trends

Support for most of these programs and services has fluctuated over the past nine years. But, in looking at just the past few years, support for many of the programs is within two percentage points of where it stood in 2011, the exceptions being Social Security (up 4 points, from 85% to 89%) and Medicaid (up 3 points, from 74% to 77%). Looking back further, support for many of these programs and services is considerably higher than it was in 2005, when the questions were first asked. Top examples of this include Medicare (up 14 points, from 76% to 90%) Social Security (up 13 points, from 76% to 89%) and crime-fighting and prevention (up 12 points from 77% to 89%).

Differences by generation

Looking specifically at Americans saying they have a great deal of support for each program, generational lines play a considerable role in professed support. As might be expected, Baby Boomers (ages 49-67) and Matures (ages 68+) are more likely than Echo Boomers (ages 18-36) or Gen Xers (ages 37-48) to show this level of support for Social Security (46% Echo Boomers, 54% Gen Xers, 74% Baby Boomers, 79% Matures) and Medicare (8%, 55%, 70% and 77%, respectively).

Support skews in the other direction for education related programs and services: Echo Boomers are more likely than any other generation to profess a great deal of support for Head Start (44% Echo Boomers, 33% Gen Xers, 34% Baby Boomers, 27% Matures) and federal aid to public schools (54%, 45%, 40% and 28%, respectively), with Matures less likely than any other generation to show such support for the latter. Matures are also less likely than any of their younger counterparts to support Food Stamps (32%, 24%, 27% and 16%, respectively) a great deal.

Differences by political party and philosophy

Democrats are more likely than Independents – who in turn are more likely than Republicans – to support the majority of the programs evaluated a great deal; key exceptions are defense, which Republicans (58%) are more likely than either Democrats (35%) or Independents (41%) to support a great deal; and intelligence services, which roughly one-fourth support a great deal across party lines (27% Republicans, 25% Democrats, 22% Independents).

What do Americans agree on?

Crime-fighting and prevention appears to be a more unifying concern, with a total of 48% supporting it a great deal and neither generational (44% Echo Boomers, 45% Gen Xers, 51% Baby Boomers, 52% Matures) nor political (47% Republicans, 52% Democrats, 48% Independents) subsets differing significantly from one another.

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TABLE 1

LEVEL OF SUPPORT FOR 14 GOVERNMENT SERVICES

For each of the following government services, please indicate how strongly you support the policy or service.

Base: All adults

A great deal/ Somewhat (NET)

A Great Deal

Somewhat

Not very much/Not at all (NET)

Not Very Much

Not At All

Medicare, the health insurance program for the elderly and disabled

%

90

61

29

10

7

3

Crime-fighting and prevention

%

89

48

41

11

8

2

Social Security

%

89

62

27

11

8

3

National Park Services

%

83

41

43

17

14

2

Defense

%

82

42

39

18

14

4

Federal aid to public schools

%

80

44

36

20

13

7

Medicaid, the health insurance program for people with very low incomes

%

77

39

38

23

17

6

Unemployment benefits

%

77

35

42

23

18

5

Environmental protection

%

76

36

40

24

17

7

Head Start, the program which provides assistance to low-income children and their families

%

75

36

39

25

17

8

Intelligence services

%

71

24

47

29

23

6

Food stamps

%

63

26

37

37

24

13

Immigration and Naturalization services

%

58

23

35

42

28

14

Foreign aid

%

35

6

29

65

36

28

Note: Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding.


TABLE 2

SUPPORT FOR GOVERNMENT SERVICES – SINCE 2005

For each of the following government services, please indicate how strongly you support the policy or service.

Summary of A Great Deal/Somewhat

Base: All adults

2005

2008

2009

2011

2014

CHANGE 2005-2014

CHANGE 2011-2014

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Medicare, the health insurance program for the elderly and disabled

76

90

90

88

90

+14

+2

Crime-fighting and prevention

77

91

88

88

89

+12

+1

Social Security

76

88

86

85

89

+13

+4

National Park Service

85

88

83

82

83

-2

+1

Defense

71

85

83

80

82

+11

+2

Federal aid to public schools

69

83

81

79

80

+11

+1

Medicaid, the health insurance program for people with very low incomes

71

80

79

74

77

+6

+3

Unemployment benefits

74

83

82

76

77

+3

+1

Environmental protection

N/A

81

74

76

76

N/A

Head Start, the program which provides assistance to low-income children and their families

N/A

N/A

N/A

N/A

75

N/A

N/A

Intelligence services

61

79

79

73

71

+10

-2

Food stamps

59

65

64

61

63

+4

+2

Immigration and naturalization process

47

64

55

56

58

+11

+2

Foreign aid

40

41

37

34

35

-5

+1

AVERAGE (MEAN)

67

78

76

73

75

 

TABLE 3

GREAT DEAL OF SUPPORT FOR GOVERNMENT SERVICES – BY GENERATION, GENDER & CHILDREN IN HH

For each of the following government services, please indicate how strongly you support the policy or service.

Summary of A Great Deal

Base: All adults

Total

Generation

Gender

Children in HH

Echo Boomers (18-36)

Gen Xers (37-48)

Baby Boomers (49-67)

Matures (68+)

Male

Female

Yes

No

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Social Security

62

46

54

74

79

58

65

47

67

Medicare, the health insurance program for the elderly and disabled

61

48

55

70

77

57

65

50

65

Crime-fighting and prevention

48

44

45

51

52

46

49

46

49

Federal aid to public schools

44

54

45

40

28

40

48

49

42

Defense

42

31

41

47

56

42

42

41

43

National Park Service

41

44

38

42

32

43

39

38

42

Medicaid, the health insurance program for people with very low incomes

39

39

35

42

35

37

40

36

40

Environmental protection

36

44

35

34

25

35

37

34

37

Head Start, the program which provides assistance to low-income children and their families

36

44

33

34

27

33

39

38

35

Unemployment benefits

35

33

34

39

29

32

37

34

35

Food stamps

26

32

24

27

16

27

26

25

27

Intelligence services

24

19

25

26

26

27

20

21

25

Immigration and naturalization process

23

24

21

24

18

25

21

24

22

Foreign aid

6

11

5

5

1

6

6

7

6

 

TABLE 4

GREAT DEAL OF SUPPORT FOR GOVERNMENT SERVICES – BY PARTY & PHILOSOPHY

For each of the following government services, please indicate how strongly you support the policy or service.

Summary of A Great Deal

Base: All adults

Total

Political Party

Political Philosophy

Republican

Democrat

Independent

Conservative

Moderate

Liberal

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

Social Security

62

56

72

59

57

62

67

Medicare, the health insurance program for the elderly and disabled

61

55

72

57

54

62

68

Crime-fighting and prevention

48

47

52

48

45

50

47

Federal aid to public schools

44

30

62

38

26

46

64

Defense

42

58

35

41

59

41

23

National Park Service

41

32

45

44

32

40

53

Medicaid, the health insurance program for people with very low incomes

39

21

58

36

22

38

62

Environmental protection

36

19

54

32

16

36

62

Head Start, the program which provides assistance to low-income children and their families

36

19

55

32

19

36

57

Unemployment benefits

35

20

50

32

20

35

53

Food stamps

26

10

41

23

10

26

48

Intelligence services

24

27

25

22

26

25

16

Immigration and naturalization process

23

18

28

23

17

22

32

Foreign aid

6

3

9

7

3

6

11

 

Methodology

This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between February 12 to 17, 2014 among 2,266 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents’ propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, The Harris Poll avoids the words margin of error as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Poll surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in our panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of The Harris Poll.

Product and brand names are trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective owners.

The Harris Poll¨ #21, March 4, 2014

By Larry Shannon-Missal, Harris Poll Research Manager

About Nielsen & The Harris Poll

On February 3, 2014, Nielsen acquired Harris Interactive and The Harris Poll. Nielsen Holdings N.V. (NYSE: NLSN) is a global information and measurement company with leading market positions in marketing and consumer information, television and other media measurement, online intelligence and mobile measurement. Nielsen has a presence in approximately 100 countries, with headquarters in New York, USA and Diemen, the Netherlands. For more information, visit www.nielsen.com.