I first ran into a reference to this March 7, 2005 Program on International Policy Attitudes [PIPA] Survey on the public’s budget priorities at Boffoblog. This is the Report of Findings and the Questionnaire (all are .pdf format).

In summary – the conclusion of the survey is that the budget priorities of most Americans are quite different from those of the administration.

PIPA is also notable for its surveys on the media and the war in Iraq and on the different views of dubya and Kerry supporters (all are .pdf format).

The instructions for those who responded to the PIPA budget survey:

As you may know, the White House proposes a budget to Congress. In this survey, you will make up a budget for 17 major areas of the budget. We’re not including some big entitlement programs like Medicare or Social Security, which by law cannot simply be adjusted year to year. For these 17 areas, a budget of about $912 billion has been proposed for 2006. Please imagine that you have $1,000 of your tax money to divide among these 17 areas. For each area, you’ll see how much of your $1,000 is proposed to go to that area, and then you can indicate how many dollars you’d like to see go to that area. You’ll be able to monitor how much of the $1,000 you have left as you make decisions by scrolling down to the bottom of the page.

The largest cuts in “real dollars” (again, based on the priorities and the allocations of the respondents) were in Defense (down 31%), Supplemental appropriations for Afghanistan and Iraq (down 35%), and Transportation (down 18%). Other areas were also cut in this prioritization.

The “proposed” budget adjustments in Defense cut large scale weapons systems and nuclear programs. However, there were increases in military pay, peacekeeping, intelligence, and high tech areas (just to name a few).

For the general budget the largest increases were in Deficit Reduction (up 56%), Education (up 39%), Energy [conservation and renewable resources] (up 24%), Job Training and Employment (up 19%), Medical Research (up 15%), and Veteran’s Benefits (up 12%).  

I was astonished to read the following:

….The largest increase was the reallocation to reductions in the budget deficit. The mean respondent reallocated $36.3 billion to deficit reduction, with 61% of respondents making some reallocation. Interestingly, Democrats allocated more to deficit reduction ($39.4 billion) than Republicans ($29.6). It should be noted that respondents were in no way prompted to make some allocation to the deficit, other than offering a line for doing so. They were also not told the size of the deficit and, as will be discussed below, a large minority did not believe there was a large deficit. Those who did believe there was a large deficit allocated substantially more to deficit reduction….

In reference to energy policy, the report also notes:

….By far the largest increase in percentage terms was for conserving and developing renewable energy. This amount was increased $24 billion, from $2.2 billion to $26.2 billion–an extraordinary increase of 1090%. This was also the area increased by the largest majority–70%….

Developing alternate energy resources might be an effective counter to the ANWR drilling agenda of the republicans.

When it came to international aid there were also some interesting priorities.

….Most respondents stated that they did not believe that the amount presented in the budget exercise for economic and humanitarian aid was the full amount, and when asked to estimate the full amount nearly all gave an amount far higher than the amount presented in the budget exercise. More importantly, when asked how much such total spending on economic and humanitarian aid should be, the majority proposed an amount far greater than the amount budgeted in the exercise….

I wonder if this is a result, in part, of the public’s increased awareness of the need due to recent massive natural disasters.  If I recall correctly, there have been surveys in the past which have asked respondents to estimate the percentage of the Federal budget devoted to “Foreign Aid” – the estimates were significantly higher than the actual percentage. Sure enough, the survey addresses this:

….More germane, when the respondents were asked to estimate what percentage of the entire federal budget is devoted to economic and humanitarian aid, their median estimate was ten percent–even though they had just seen for themselves that it only constituted a small fraction (actually, 1.6%) of the discretionary budget shown. Only 18% of respondents estimated that the amount was 3% or less. Furthermore, when respondents were asked what percentage of the overall budget should be devoted to economic and humanitarian aid, the median response was a remarkable 15%–substantially more than the median estimate of the actual amount, and completely inconsistent with the amounts proposed in the budget exercise. Only 12% of respondents said the amount should be 2% or less of the entire federal budget….

The report cites partisan differences in the amount of change, but, for the most part not in the direction of such. There are two notable exceptions:

….For only two items did the average Republican budget and Democrat budget actually take opposing directions. On humanitarian and economic aid, Republicans made an average reduction of $2.6 billion, while Democrats made an average increase of $7.7 billion. And on housing, Republicans reduced by an average $1.9 billion, while Democrats increased housing by $18 billion….

The report also addresses the public’s general knowledge and the partisan divide about the actual changes in this administration’s budget.

….In terms of spending on education and the environment, opinion about whether the Administration’s budget proposal increases or decreases these was more divided and somewhat more partisan. The proposed budget actually has decreases in real spending for both education and the environment. Among the public, 35% believed the Administration’s budget increased spending on education and 34% believed that it decreased spending; only 26% of Republicans, but 47% of Democrats, recognized that the budget decreased spending in this area….

It would appear that educating the public about the differences between their perception and the administration’s reality in budget priorities could be an effective counter to the administration’s actions.

The first step for all of us is arm ourselves with the facts.

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