Get notifications of new releases from the Reason-Rupe Poll.

January 2013 National Survey


79 Percent of Americans Say Federal Spending Hasn’t Improved America’s Quality of Life, 49 Percent Support Going Back to Clinton-Era Spending Levels

Adjusted for inflation, federal spending per capita has increased approximately 39 percent since 1992, yet a new Reason-Rupe poll finds 79 percent of Americans believe the government’s spending increases have reduced the quality of life or made no impact on the quality of life in the country during that time.  Forty percent say the increases in federal spending over the last 20 years reduced the quality of life in the country and 39 percent say the increases had no impact on the quality of life. Just 17 percent feel federal spending increases improved the quality of life in America.

Nearly half the country, 49 percent, says it would help the economy if the federal government returned to Clinton-era spending levels, while 30 percent believe it would make no difference and 12 percent think returning to those spending levels would hurt the economy.

An even larger number, 61 percent, support cutting military spending back to the amount that was spent before the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan began, while 25 percent oppose such a reduction.

In an open-ended question about what specific things the government spends too much money on, defense spending took the top spot, named by 21 percent. Congress itself—its pay and perks—was singled-out by 17 percent, followed by foreign aid at 13 percent and welfare and social programs, also at 13 percent.

When asked, open-ended, how much money the federal government wastes, the median response was that that the federal government squanders 50 cents out of every tax dollar.

Two entitlement reforms that were often mentioned during the fiscal cliff negotiations—raising the retirement age and means-testing Social Security and Medicare drew little support in the poll. Sixty-six percent of Americans oppose raising the retirement age from 65 to 67, while 31 percent favor doing so. Similarly, 56 percent oppose means-testing Social Security or Medicare, 40 percent favor means-testing the programs.

When asked, open-ended, what President Barack Obama’s top priority should be during his second term, 29 percent say the economy, 19 percent would like him to focus on jobs and 13 percent say balancing the budget and reducing the deficit.

The Reason-Rupe poll conducted live interviews with 1,000 adults on mobile (500) and landline (500) phones from January 17-21, 2013. The poll’s margin of error is plus or minus 3.8 percent. Princeton Survey Research Associates International executed the nationwide survey.

Although Congress recently set aside the government’s borrowing limit until May, 64 percent of Americans say Congress should not raise the debt ceiling and 29 percent say it should be raised.  If Congress does not raise the debt ceiling, 25 percent expect it would create a “major” economic crisis, 30 percent think it would cause a “minor” economic downturn and 22 percent say it would help the economy.

Three-quarters, 75 percent, of Americans consider the national debt a “major problem” that must be addressed now, 20 percent say it is a major problem that should be addressed when the economy has improved and just 3 percent of Americans say the debt is “not much of a problem.”

Looking back at the past year, 53 percent of Americans say Congress had a negative impact on the economy and just 10 percent think Congress made a positive impact on the economy. Given the opportunity to use any word to describe Congress, the public overwhelmingly chose words like inept, incompetent and selfish.  Overall, 17 percent of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing and 74 percent disapprove.

Meanwhile, 52 percent approve of the job President Obama is doing and 42 percent disapprove. The public is split over how the president is handling the economy, with 48 percent approving and 47 percent disapproving.

Americans Don't Want Marijuana Users Growers or Selles Arrested By Feds

Last November voters in Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana, but the drug remains illegal under federal law. As the Obama administration contemplates how to deal with society’s growing acceptance of marijuana, a new Reason-Rupe poll finds an overwhelming number of Americans believe people should be free to use, grow and sell marijuana if their states have legalized the drug.

As Jacob Sullum wrote earlier, if a state legalizes marijuana, 72 percent of Americans believe the federal government should not arrest marijuana users in that state, while 24 percent think the federal government should arrest them. Seventy-seven percent of those who approve of the job President Obama is doing say the federal government should not arrest marijuana users in Colorado and Washington.

Similarly, 68 percent, say the federal government should not arrest marijuana growers in states that have legalized the drug. Twenty-nine percent say growers should still be arrested under federal law in those states.

Nearly two-thirds, 64 percent, of Americans say the federal government should not arrest marijuana sellers in states that have legalized marijuana, while 32 percent feel sellers should be arrested by the feds.

Republicans usually make the case for federalism, but in all three instances—smoking, growing, selling—Reason-Rupe finds higher numbers of independents and Democrats embrace the federalist argument that the federal government should stand down in states that have legalized marijuana.

The Reason-Rupe poll also finds a majority of Americans, 53 percent, agree that marijuana should be treated the same as alcohol, while 45 percent disagree.  Fifty-eight percent of independents and 57 percent of Democrats favor treating marijuana like alcohol. Meanwhile just 35 percent of Republicans favor treating marijuana like alcohol, 62 percent oppose doing so.  Interestingly, a majority of Independent-leaning Republicans favor treating marijuana like alcohol while fully partisan Republicans are the only political group in opposition.

Overall, Reason-Rupe finds 49 percent oppose legalizing marijuana for recreational use and 47 percent support legalizing it. That finding is within the poll’s margin of error, which is plus or minus 3.8 percent. Democrats narrowly oppose legalizing marijuana (48-46) and Republicans overwhelmingly oppose legalizing marijuana (70-25).  Yet Independents, including majorities of both Independent-leaning Democrats and Independent-leaning Republicans favor legalizing marijuana for recreational use 71-28 and 53-46 respectively. Similarly, men favor legalizing it (52-45) but women oppose it (53-42). All age groups 64-years-old and younger support legalizing marijuana but people 65 and older oppose it (67-29).

52 Percent of Americans Say Sandy Hook Is Being Exploited for Political Gain

As gun rights and gun control are debated in the wake of the Sandy Hook school shooting, a majority of Americans say elected officials are “exploiting” the tragedy.  The new Reason-Rupe poll finds 52 percent of Americans believe that elected officials are exploiting the tragedy for political gain, while 41 percent feel elected officials are acting responsibly. 

Democrats differ sharply from independents and Republicans on the issue. Seventy-one percent of Republicans and 60 percent of independents think the tragedy is being politicized, while just 32 percent of Democrats believe so.

As Jacob Sullum mentioned in his column this morning, Reason-Rupe finds that over half, 51 percent, of Americans say people “should be allowed to own assault weapons,” while 44 percent say people “should be prohibited from owning assault weapons.” Once again there is a substantial political divide: 68 percent of Republicans and 57 percent of independents say assault weapons should be allowed. However, just 33 percent of Democrats agree.

Democrats, who normally count on the youth vote, may be surprised to find that 70 percent of 18-24 year-olds and 58 percent of 25-34 year-olds say “assault weapons should be allowed.” Similarly, Republicans, who usually rely upon the senior vote, will find that 57 percent of 55-64 year-olds and 61 percent of people over the age of 65 say assault weapons should be prohibited.

As Congress gets ready to debate new gun restrictions, just 27 percent of Americans say the federal assault weapons ban that expired in 2004 would’ve helped avoid the tragedy if it were still in place. Over two-thirds, 67 percent, say the ban would not have helped avoid the shooting.

The public is split on what might have helped prevent the Newtown tragedy. When asked what might have helped prevent the shooting, 24 percent proposed better mental health treatment, 19 percent said stricter gun laws, 18 percent stressed better parenting and 17 percent suggested armed guards.

The poll also found little consensus when respondents were asked, open-ended, to actually define an assault weapon. Assault weapons were described as fully automatic machine guns in 29 percent of the responses. Twenty-seven percent of the answers defined assault weapons as any gun that fires rapidly, 23 percent focused on the size of the magazine or clip and 17 percent described them as any gun having the ability to fire multiple rounds.  

The polls finds 52 percent approve of the job President Barack Obama is doing and 42 percent disapprove. The public is split over how the president is handling the economy, with 48 percent approving and 47 percent disapproving. Just 17 percent of Americans approve of the job Congress is doing and 74 percent disapprove.

The Reason-Rupe poll conducted live interviews with 1,000 adults on mobile (500) and landline (500) phones from January 17-21, 2013. The poll’s margin of error is plus or minus 3.8 percent. Princeton Survey Research Associates International executed the nationwide survey.

The full poll is online here (.pdf) and additional Reason-Rupe poll resources are available here. This is the latest in a series of Reason-Rupe public opinion surveys dedicated to exploring what Americans really think about government and major issues.  This Reason Foundation project is made possible thanks to the generous support of the Arthur N. Rupe Foundation.

The full poll is online here and additional resources are available here. The Reason-Rupe poll conducted live interviews with 1,000 adults on mobile (500) and landline (500) phones from January 17-21, 2013. Princeton Survey Research Associates International executed the nationwide survey. The survey has a margin of error of +/- 3.8%.

This is the latest in a series of Reason-Rupe public opinion surveys dedicated to exploring what Americans really think about government and major issues.   This Reason Foundation project is made possible thanks to the generous support of the Arthur N. Rupe Foundation.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

advertisement