New Harris Poll Underlines Political Difficulty of Cutting Government Services

    NEW YORK, N.Y. – March 7, 2011 – A new Harris Poll finds that large majorities of the public are supportive of many government services. It points to the political difficulties of cutting government spending if those cuts are perceived as reducing the quantity or quality of the popular programs and the services that they provide. Specifically large majorities, more than 70% of all adults, including 60% or more of Republicans, say they support crime fighting services, Social Security, Medicare, the national park services, defense, aid to public schools, unemployment services, environmental protection, Medicaid and intelligence services.

    These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 3,171 adults surveyed online between February 14 and 21, 2011 by Harris Interactive.

    The survey asked about 13 different types of government services and programs, using the same list and the same programs as in three previous Harris Polls, conducted in 2005, 2008 and 2009, so that it measure changes in attitudes to these government services over time.

    The main findings are:

    • The most popular services and programs, supported by 80% or more of the public, are crime fighting and prevention (88% support a great deal, or somewhat) Medicare (88%) Social Security (85%), the National Parks (82%) and defense (80%). Very large majorities (77% or more) of Democrats, Republicans and Independents support all of these;
    • Also popular with large majorities of adults are federal aid to public schools (79%) unemployment benefits (76%) environmental protection (76%) Medicaid (74%), and intelligence services (73%). More Democrats than Republicans support aid to schools, unemployment benefits, environmental protection and Medicaid, but 60% or more of Republicans also support them;
    • Smaller majorities of the public support food stamps (61%) and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (56%); and
    • The one program on the list that is not supported by a majority of the public is foreign aid. Only 34% support it.

    Trends

    Support for many of these programs and services has gone up and down over the years. Support for several programs is a little lower now than it was in 2009. For example, there is slightly less support in 2011 than in 2009 for unemployment benefits (down from 82% to 76%), Medicaid (down from 79% to 74%) and intelligence services (down from 79% to 73%). On the other hand, support for many of these programs and services is higher now than it was in 2005 when the questions were first asked. For example, support has increased, by 10 points or more, for crime fighting and prevention (from 77% to 88%), Medicare (76% to 88%), aid to public schools (69% to 79%) and intelligence services (61% to 73%).

    So What?

    This Harris Poll underlines the difficulty faced by lawmakers who want to reduce the budget deficit by cutting spending on public services and programs. This seems to be another case of the phenomenon described in other recent Harris Polls of hate the forest, but like the trees, where the forest is government spending and the trees are the programs on which the government spends money.

    Why do different programs become more or less popular over time? Polls are much better at measuring trends than at explaining them so we can only speculate. It is probably true that the state of the economy and consumer sentiment is a factor. When consumer confidence is high (and it was higher in 2005) support for government services may decline. When the economy is in bad shape, and consumer confidence declines, as it had in 2008 and 2009, public support for many government programs probably increases. Now that there has been a modest improvement in the economy and in consumer sentiment, support for public services has slipped a little.

     

     

     

     

    TABLE 1

    LEVEL OF SUPPORT FOR 13 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

    Some-what

    Not very much/Not at all (NET)

    Not

    Very Much

    Not

    At All

    Crime-fighting and prevention

    %

    88

    49

    39

    12

    9

    3

    Medicare, the health insurance program for the elderly and disabled

    %

    88

    57

    31

    12

    8

    4

    Social Security

    %

    85

    58

    28

    15

    9

    6

    National Park Services

    %

    82

    41

    41

    18

    12

    6

    Defense

    %

    80

    43

    37

    20

    14

    6

    Federal aid to public schools

    %

    79

    44

    34

    21

    12

    9

    Unemployment benefits

    %

    76

    36

    40

    24

    17

    6

    Environmental protection

    %

    76

    36

    39

    24

    17

    8

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

    %

    74

    37

    37

    26

    18

    8

    Intelligence services

    %

    73

    30

    44

    27

    19

    7

    Food stamps

    %

    61

    25

    37

    39

    25

    14

    Immigration and naturalization process

    %

    56

    22

    34

    44

    25

    19

    Foreign aid

    %

    34

    8

    8

    66

    37

    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

    CHANGE

    2005-2011

    CHANGE

    2009-2011

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Crime-fighting and prevention

    77

    91

    88

    88

    +11

    Medicare, the health insurance program for the elderly and disabled

    76

    90

    90

    88

    +12

    -2

    Social Security

    76

    88

    86

    85

    +9

    -1

    National Park Service

    85

    88

    83

    82

    -3

    -1

    Defense

    71

    85

    83

    80

    +9

    -3

    Federal aid to public schools

    69

    83

    81

    79

    +10

    -2

    Unemployment benefits

    74

    83

    82

    76

    +2

    -6

    Environmental protection

    N/A

    81

    74

    76

    N/A

    +2

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

    71

    80

    79

    74

    +3

    -5

    Intelligence services

    61

    79

    79

    73

    +12

    -6

    Food stamps

    59

    65

    64

    61

    +2

    -3

    Immigration and naturalization process

    47

    64

    55

    56

    +9

    +1

    Foreign aid

    40

    41

    37

    34

    -6

    -3

    AVERAGE (MEAN)

    67

    78

    76

    73

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

     

     

    TABLE 3

    SUPPORT FOR GOVERNMENT SERVICES – BY PARTY

    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

    Total

    Party I.D.

    Republican

    Democrat

    Independent

    %

    %

    %

    %

    Crime-fighting and prevention

    88

    89

    89

    89

    Medicare, the health insurance program for the elderly and disabled

    88

    86

    92

    90

    Social Security

    85

    81

    93

    85

    National Park Service

    82

    79

    85

    84

    Defense

    80

    88

    77

    81

    Federal aid to public schools

    79

    70

    90

    77

    Unemployment benefits

    76

    67

    86

    77

    Environmental protection

    76

    64

    88

    75

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

    74

    60

    86

    74

    Intelligence services

    73

    78

    74

    74

    Food stamps

    61

    46

    75

    61

    Immigration and naturalization process

    56

    49

    65

    55

    Foreign aid

    34

    26

    44

    32

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

     

    Methodology

    This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between February 14 to 21, 2011 among 3,171 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, Harris Interactive 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 Interactive 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 the Harris Interactive 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 Harris Interactive.

    J39370

    Q805

     

     

    The Harris Poll ® #31, March 7, 2011

    By Humphrey Taylor, Chairman The Harris Poll, Harris Interactive

     

    About Harris Interactive

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