Reason-Rupe September 2013 National Survey


September 2013 Poll Results Overview

Public says Obama disappoints on transparency, Congress passes too many laws, split on Snowden, Facebook trusted less than the IRS on privacy, and no bailout for Detroit

With the federal government expected to hit its debt limit in mid-October, 70 percent of Americans oppose raising the debt ceiling, the latest Reason-Rupe poll finds. In fact, 55 percent of Americans say they do not support raising the debt ceiling even if it causes the U.S. to default on its debt.

If equal spending cuts accompany an increase in the debt ceiling, 45 percent say they'd support raising it and 46 percent would oppose. Thirty-five percent favor raising the debt ceiling in exchange for cutting off funding to the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, with 56 percent opposed.

Nearly two-thirds, 63 percent, of Americans feel members of Congress are out of touch with their constituents when it comes to federal spending.  Seventy-six percent of Americans believe the federal government spends too much money, 11 percent say it spends the right amount, and 7 percent say it spends too little.

In response to open-ended questions, Americans told Reason-Rupe the government wastes 60 cents out of every dollar they pay in federal taxes and they'd cut federal spending by 30 percent across the board.

Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-WI) 2013 budget plan aims to balance the federal budget over 10 years, but Reason-Rupe finds the public wants it done sooner than that. In fact, 40 percent of Americans say Congress should balance the budget immediately, 32 percent say the budget should be balanced over five years, 16 percent feel it should be balanced over 10 years, and 7 percent say Congress should not worry about balancing the budget.


Sixty-four percent of Americans say if a member of Congress does not agree with them on federal spending they'd describe that member as "extreme."

A majority of Americans, 56 percent, believe Congress passes too many laws. And more than two-thirds of Americans, 67 percent, say Congress passes the "wrong kinds of laws." Yet, 69 percent also say partisan gridlock is preventing Congress from getting  more things done and 67 percent would like Congress to compromise more, even if they don't like the resulting legislation.

NSA Spying and the Obama Administration's Transparency

President Obama has said, "This is the most transparent administration in history." However, 63 percent of Americans say they disagree with president's transparency claim. Furthermore, 61 percent say the Obama administration has not lived up to their expectations on transparency. Three in 10 say the administration has met their transparency expectations, and 7 percent say the administration has exceeded their expectations on transparency.

However, a majority of Americans, 55 percent, say the steady stream of government surveillance stories coming from Edward Snowden's leaks have not changed the way they view the federal government. Thirty-four percent say the National Security Agency surveillance revelations have decreased their trust in the government and 8 percent say it has increased their trust in government.

The public is split on whether or not Mr. Snowden is a hero or a traitor. Thirty-nine percent say Snowden is a "traitor for leaking government secrets" and 35 percent say he is a "patriot" for letting the public know about the government's surveillance programs.

More Americans say the NSA data collection program is a violation of privacy (55 percent) than say it is needed to fight terrorism (33 percent). Nevertheless, the public is mixed on whether other government agencies should have access to the data the NSA collects, and they are selective about which agencies should get the data. Forty-five percent of Americans say the NSA should share private information with the Drug Enforcement Administration in non-terrorism related cases, while the same number say it should not share the information. 

The numbers change dramatically for agencies searching for a missing child. In that case, 68 percent of Americans say the NSA should share any information it may have collected with other government agencies. Only a quarter of Americans say the NSA should not share information in the case of a missing child. However, when it comes to sharing information with the Internal Revenue Service, only 28 percent think the NSA should be allowed to share its information, while 65 percent say sharing with the IRS should not be allowed. 

Trusting Facebook, Google and the IRS

It's not all bad news for the IRS, however. More people trust the IRS to protect their privacy than trust Facebook or Google to do the same.

Over six in 10 Americans, 61 percent, say they do not trust Facebook "at all" to protect their privacy and another 15 percent say they only trust Facebook "a little." Google has similar trust problems with 48 percent saying they do not trust the company  to protect their privacy at all and 19 percent say they trust Google a little. For comparison, 45 percent of Americans say they do not trust the IRS to protect their privacy at all and 18 percent trust the IRS a little. Four in 10 Americans do not trust the NSA to protect their privacy and 19 percent trust the agency a little.

Pensions and Detroit

With Detroit's recent bankruptcy filing, 31 percent of Americans say the federal government should help bail out Detroit, while 65 percent say the federal government should not.

Part of Detroit's fiscal problems stem from pension and retiree health care costs. When asked what their city should do in a similar budget situation, 73 percent of Americans oppose raising taxes to fund government workers' retirements. However, 78 percent of Americans support requiring government workers to contribute more towards their own pensions and benefits, and 63 percent favor cutting the benefits government workers receive.

As more cities grapple with pension problems, Reason-Rupe finds 70 percent of Americans support switching future government employees, who have not been promised benefits yet, from guaranteed pensions to 401(k) retirement plans.

Poll: 64 Percent of Americans Say President Obama's Handling of Foreign Policy Is Worse or the Same as President George W. Bush's

74 percent of Americans say strikes on Syria would be "unwise" and half of Americans believe the D.C.  establishment wants war more than the public

As the country debates launching airstrikes on Syria, President Barack Obama's standing on foreign policy has taken such a hit that the latest Reason-Rupe poll finds 64 percent of Americans, including 68 percent of independents and 41 percent of Democrats, believe President Obama's handling of foreign policy is worse than, or the same as, former President George W. Bush's handling of foreign policy.

President Obama famously said he opposes "dumb wars." Nearly three-quarters of Americans, 74 percent, say it would be "unwise" for the United States to launch airstrikes on Syria without the support of the United Nations or Great Britain. Just 17 percent say U.S. strikes on Syria would be wise.

When it comes to launching U.S. military action across the globe, 47 percent of Americans say the "political establishment in Washington D.C."  is more likely to favor military action than they are. A majority of independents, 57 percent, say D.C. insiders are more likely to favor war than they are. In contrast, just 17 percent of Americans say the Beltway establishment is less likely to favor military action than they are, and 30 percent say the establishment favors war about the same amount as the public.

The Reason-Rupe poll conducted live interviews with 1013 adults on mobile (509) and landline (504) phones from September 4-8, 2013. The poll's margin of error is plus or minus 3.7 percent. The poll's sample was made up of 38 percent independents, 29 percent Democrats,  and 23 percent Republicans. Princeton Survey Research Associates International executed the nationwide Reason-Rupe survey.

Nearly two-thirds, 64 percent, of Americans say striking Syria is not necessary to protect America's credibility and national security, while 27 percent say a strike is necessary.

On the broad issue of foreign policy, 35 percent of Americans approve of the job President Obama is doing, whereas 58 percent disapprove.

More than half, 51 percent, of Americans say they now disapprove of the job President Obama is doing overall, while 43 percent approve. This is a dramatic reversal in the president's overall approval ratings compared to previous Reason-Rupe surveys. In May, for example, President Obama enjoyed a 50 percent approval rating, with 43 percent disapproval. 


About the Poll

The Reason-Rupe poll, executed by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, conducted live interviews with 1,013  adults on mobile [509] and landline [504] phones from September 4-8, 2013. The poll's margin of error is plus or minus 3.7  percent. The poll's sample was made up of 38 percent independents, 29 percent Democrats,  and 23 percent Republicans.

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. 


Emily Ekins, Director of Polling, Reason Foundation (310) 574-2961