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Despite Recent High Visibility, Americans Not Enthusiastic About Spending More Money on Space Program

NASA, however, gets high job approval rating from public


PRINCETON, NJ -- Despite the high levels of publicity the United States' space program has received recently, including last year's space shuttle mission involving Senator John Glenn, this year's 30th anniversary of the first walk on the moon, and the just-completed voyage of the first shuttle mission commanded by a woman, Americans remain cautious in their judgement of the value of the money being spent on space, and are not in favor of increased NASA budgets.

The NASA Budget: Keep It the Same or Reduce It?
Gallup has asked a question since 1984 which emphasizes that all government programs have to be paid for out of taxes and then asks if specific programs should be increased, kept at the present level, reduced or ended altogether.

In most years, when this question has been asked about NASA, the plurality of Americans say that its budget should be kept the same, although the rest have usually tilted towards a view that it should be reduced or ended. In 1986, a high water mark for NASA, 26% of Americans said that its budget should be increased, while only 14% said that it should be reduced. (Five percent said that it should be ended, while 50% said that it should remain the same.) In September 1993, on the other hand, only 9% wanted NASA's budget to be increased, 37% said it should be kept the same, 41% said it should be reduced, and 10% said that it should be ended, meaning that a majority of Americans wanted NASA's budget cut or totally terminated.

In Gallup's most recent poll, conducted July 13-14, 45% of Americans say that NASA's budget should remain the same. Of the rest, however, there is a more negative tilt, with 26% saying that it should be reduced, and another 8% saying that it should be ended altogether. Only 18% want NASA's budget to be increased.

The public's sentiment about money spent on space exploration can be juxtaposed against the public's reaction to the idea of spending money on social programs. Last November, 77% of those interviewed said that the amount of government money spent on "improving medical and health care for Americans generally" should be increased, while 77% said that "federal money to improve the quality of public education" should be increased. Another 44% said that funding to provide food programs for low-income families should be increased.

In short, it is domestic social programs that are the highest priority for Americans, not extraterrestrial exploration.

Perhaps not surprisingly given these results on spending, Americans have traditionally been less than overwhelmingly likely to say that the space program has brought enough benefits to this country to justify its costs.

In 1979, ten years after the Apollo 11 lunar landing, an NBC/AP poll showed that only 41% of Americans believed the benefits of the space program outweighed its costs. By 1994, 25 years after Apollo 11, that number had risen to 47%. Now, at the 30-year mark, 55% are positive about the benefits outweighing the costs, perhaps in part due to the publicity in the last year given to John Glenn's historic voyage on the space shuttle. The support may also come from public recognition that many advances in communications and technology can be credited to the space program, such as communications satellites and computers.

NASA Gets Higher Marks Now Than in Early 1990s
Despite these ambivalent feelings about the value of the U.S. space effort, almost two-thirds of Americans give positive marks to the job being done by NASA. In the July 13-14 Gallup poll, 64% give NASA either an excellent - 20% -- or good -- 44% -- score. Last fall, after John Glenn's flight, 76% gave NASA positive marks. In most of the early years of this decade, however, the marks were lower, including a 46% positive rating in 1990, 43% in 1993, and 57% in 1994.

Four out of Ten Support Effort to Send Manned Spacecraft to Mars
Gallup asked Americans back in 1969 -- within a few days of the successful Apollo 11 mission -- if they favored "the United States setting aside money" for an attempt to land an astronaut on the planet Mars. Despite the extraordinary success of the just-completed mission to the moon, Americans were less than enthusiastic about extending the effort to Mars. Only 39% of those interviewed favored such an attempt, while 53% opposed it.

Americans feel much the same way today, some 30 years later. Forty-three percent favor the Mars project in a recent poll, while 54% now oppose it.

Gallup Poll data from the 1960s, however, show that Americans were also generally ambivalent about the money then being spent on the effort to send a man to the moon. For example, in a poll conducted in 1964, only 26% agreed that the U.S. "should go all out to beat the Russians in a manned flight to the moon."

Survey Methods
The results below are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,061 adults, 18 years and older, conducted July 13-14, 1999. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is plus or minus 3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

How would you rate the job being done by NASA -- the U.S. space agency? Would you say it is doing an excellent, good, only fair, or poor job?

  Excellent Good Only fair Poor No opinion
99 Jul 13-14 20% 44% 20% 5% 11%
98 Nov 20-22 26 50 17 4 3
98 Jan 30-Feb 1 21 46 21 4 8
94 Jul 15-17 14 43 29 6 8
93 Dec 18 43 30 7 2
93 Sept 7 36 35 11 11
91 May 16 48 24 6 6
90 July 10 36 34 15 5

Now I'd like to ask you about government spending on NASA. In answering, please bear in mind that sooner or later all government spending has to be taken care of out of the taxes that you and other Americans pay. Do you think spending on the U.S. space program should be increased, kept at the present level, reduced or ended altogether?

  Increased Kept at the present level Reduced Ended altogether No opinion
99 Jul
18% 45% 26% 8% 3%
98 Nov 20-22 21 47 26 4 2
93 Dec 11 42 38 8 1
93 Sep 9 37 41 10 3
91 May
21 44 28 3 4
1989 27 42 22 4 5
1986 26 50 14 5 5
1984 21 48 23 5 4

It is now thirty years since the United States first landed men on the moon. Do you think the space program has brought enough benefits to this country to justify its costs, or don't you think so?

  Yes, brought enough benefits No, doesn't justify costs No opinion
99 Jul 13-14 55% 40% 5%
94 Jul 15-17 47 47 6
1979** 41 53 6

** 1979 NBC News/AP

There has been much discussion about attempting to land an astronaut on the planet Mars. How would you feel about such an attempt -- would you favor or oppose the United States setting aside money for such a project?

  Favor Oppose No opinion
99 Jul 13-14 43% 54% 3%
69 Jul 24-29 39 53 8

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