Government Spending

On What Do You Think The Government Spends the Most Money?


In the latest Reason-Rupe poll, respondents were asked to use their own words to list which things the federal government spends the most money on. Answers were categorized and coded and then compared with actual government spending data. These data display the first responses given to what the government spends the most money on. These data demonstrate that respondents' first responses overestimated spending for defense and the military and underestimated spending for mandatory spending programs, including Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, in part because they underestimated the spending to means-tested mandatory programs.

Source: Office of Management and Budget Historical Tables. 2011. Table 8.3 "Percentage Distribution of Outlays by Budget Enforcement Act Category: 1962-2016"

UPDATE: For clarification I replaced the second pie chart with a table "Percentage Distribution of Outlays by Budget Enforcement." Survey respondent percentages should not be directly compared to the federal budget percentages. Instead, the table "Percentage Distribution of Outlays by Budget Enforcement" provides a context for which to interpret survey results.

Click here for full survey results.

Survey Methods

The Reason-Rupe Q3 2011 poll collected a nationally representative sample of 1200 respondents, aged 18 and older from all 50 states and the District of Columbia using live telephone interviews from August 9th-18th 2011. The margin of sampling error for this poll is ± 3 percent. The margin of error for the GOP presidential race numbers is ± 4.79%. Interviews were conducted with respondents using both landline (790) and mobile phones (410). Landline respondents were randomly selected within households based on the adult who had the most recent birthday. Sample was weighted by gender, age, ethnicity, and Census region, based on the most recent US Census data. The sampling frame included landline and mobile phone numbers generated using Random Digit Dialing (RDD) methods and randomly selected numbers from a directory-listed sample. Click here for full methodological details. NSON Opinion Strategy conducted the poll's fieldwork. View full methodology.