- 50% say defense spending about right; 31% say U.S. spends too much
- Republicans have shifted dramatically toward saying spending about right
- Near-record 62% of Americans say national defense strength about right
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- For the first time in Gallup's more than 50 years of asking the question, half of Americans regard U.S. defense spending as "about right." The remainder tilt more toward saying the U.S. spends too much (31%) rather than too little (17%).
The percentage saying defense spending is about right has risen from 27% in 2016, with most of the change being a decline in the percentage saying the U.S. spends too little on defense, from 37% to 17%.
Since 1969, when Gallup first asked the question, opinions on U.S. defense spending have shifted greatly. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, as the U.S. was engaged in the Vietnam War, roughly half of Americans said the U.S. was spending too much on defense. Half also believed the U.S. was spending too much in January 1990, as the Cold War was coming to an end.
In 1981, shortly after Ronald Reagan was inaugurated following a presidential election campaign in which he argued for an increase in military spending, 51% of Americans said the U.S. was spending too little on defense. About 20 months later, after he had begun his military buildup, just 16% held this view, while 41% said the U.S. was spending too much.
Most of the recent shifts in opinions about national defense have been among Republicans. In 2016, 23% of Republicans thought the U.S. was spending the right amount on defense. Today, 72% do, with much of that increase (23 points) observed in the past year, likely reflecting approval of the sharp increase in defense spending under President Donald Trump.
There has also been a significant increase in the percentage of independents who believe the U.S. spends the right amount on defense, from 26% in 2016 to 42% today. Thirty-nine percent of independents believe the U.S. spends too much on defense, a view that has been relatively stable since 2016.
A slim majority of Democrats, 51%, say the U.S. spends too much on defense, while 36% believe it spends the right amount and 13% too little. Democrats' opinions on defense spending have been mostly stable over the past five years.
Near-Record High Say U.S. Defense Strength "About Right"
Sixty-two percent of U.S. adults assess the strength of U.S. national defense as being "about right," two points off the record-high 64% from 1990. About twice as many say U.S. defense is not strong enough (25%) as say it is stronger than it needs to be (12%).
In 2016, Americans were evenly divided as to whether the country's national defense was about right or not strong enough. Typically, those have been the most common views, with only about one in 10 saying defense is stronger than it needs to be. The high point in perceptions that defense is not strong enough is 47% in 2008.
Majorities of Republicans (67%), independents (64%) and Democrats (52%) believe the strength of the U.S. national defense is about right. Similar percentages of Democrats describe U.S. defense as being stronger than it needs to be (24%) or not being strong enough (22%).
The percentage of Republicans who say U.S. national defense is about right has surged from 18% in 2016. At that time, 77% of Republicans believed U.S. defense was not strong enough. Among independents, there has been a 21-point increase in the percentage believing defense spending is about right over the same period.
In contrast, fewer Democrats now hold that view than did so in 2016, when 61% did.
Majority of Americans Regard U.S. as No. 1 Military Power
At a time when Americans are relatively satisfied with the strength of the U.S. military and the amount of military spending, 58% say the U.S. is No. 1 in the world militarily, while 41% see it as "only one of several leading military powers." Since Gallup first asked this in 1993, between 49% (in 2016) and 64% (in 2010) have considered the U.S. the world's top military power.
Currently, 75% of Republicans, 52% of independents and 46% of Democrats say the U.S. is the No. 1 military power in the world.
Historically, Republicans' opinions about whether the U.S. is No. 1 militarily have varied the most, depending on the party of the president.
|During Republican presidential administrations||67||54||51|
|During Democratic presidential administrations||55||51||56|
|Figures are averages of the times the question has been asked in Republican (2007, 2017-2020) and Democratic (2000, 2012-2016) presidential administrations|
Asked whether it is important for the U.S. to be the No. 1 military power in the world, 63% say it is and 36% say it is "not that important, as long as the U.S. is among the leading military powers." The percentage who think it is important is down slightly from an average of 68% holding this view between 2015 and 2017. The low point was 59% in 1999.
Republicans (86%) are much more likely than independents (56%) and Democrats (45%) to say it is important that the U.S. be No. 1. The importance figures by party are in line with what Gallup has typically measured since the question was first asked in 2000.
Historically, Americans' opinions about defense spending have been tied to U.S. policy or perceptions of threats to the U.S. on the world stage. Defense spending has increased in recent years after several years of reductions tied to the drawdown of U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, record- or near-record-high percentages of Americans regard U.S. defense spending and military strength as being "about right."
These shifts in opinion have been driven largely by increasing percentages of Republicans who believe U.S. military and defense policy is where it should be. Presumably, they will continue to believe that in the coming years if President Trump is reelected. If the Democratic candidate defeats Trump and attempts to reduce U.S. military spending, both Republicans and Democrats would likely recalibrate their opinions on the status of U.S. national defense and military spending.
Learn more about public opinion metrics that matter for the 2020 presidential election at Gallup's 2020 Presidential Election Center.
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