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.

The full poll is online here (.pdf) and additional 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.