- Public evenly divided on level of defense spending
- Fewer in U.S. say the strength of the U.S. defense is about right
- Republicans' views have shifted most over the past two years
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Before Russia invaded Ukraine, Americans were divided evenly as to whether the U.S. was spending too little (32%), too much (31%) or about the right amount (34%) on the military and national defense. This marks a significant shift from two years ago, during Republican Donald Trump's administration and after significant increases in defense spending, when a record high 50% said spending was about right, while 17% said the U.S. was spending too little.
Line graph. Trend in Americans' opinions on defense spending. Americans in 2022 are evenly divided on whether the U.S. spends too little, the right amount or too much on the military and national defense. Americans' views have shifted over time, with the public most likely to say the U.S. spends too much in the late 1960s and early 1970s and the late 1980s and early 1990s. The greatest number said the U.S. spent too little in 1981, in 2000 and early 2001, and 2016 and 2017. Americans were most likely to say spending was about right in the late 1990s, between 2002 and 2005, and between 2019 and 2021.
The Feb. 1-17 survey was conducted as Russia was building up forces along the Ukraine border and the U.S. and other nations warned of an invasion. Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24. It is unclear how opinions might have changed since the invasion occurred.
Previously released Gallup data from the same poll showed that two-thirds of Americans believe it is important the U.S. be number one in the world militarily, and that about half say that the U.S has the top military in the world.
Americans' opinions about defense spending have varied since Gallup first asked the question in 1969, usually in response to conditions that affect the military and the national defense. For example, pluralities said the U.S. was spending too much on defense in the late 1960s and 1970s during the Vietnam War era and in 1990 after the Cold War between the U.S. and Soviet Union ended.
In contrast, pluralities of Americans said the U.S. was spending too little on the military in 1981, 2000 and 2001, and 2016 and 2017 at the tail end of Democratic presidential administrations. Republican presidential candidates seeking to replace those Democratic presidents made U.S. military strength a campaign issue.
Fewer in U.S. Say Strength of Defense Is "About Right"
A separate question in the survey finds that most Americans believe the U.S. national defense is not strong enough (42%) or that its strength is about right (44%). Twelve percent say it is stronger than it needs to be.
These attitudes, too, have shifted in the past two years. In 2020, 62% said the strength of the U.S. defense was "about right," two-percentage-points shy of the historical high recorded at the end of the Cold War.
Current opinions about the strength of U.S. defense are similar to those recorded near the end of the Barack Obama administration and the beginning of the Trump administration between 2015 and 2017.
Line graph. Trend in Americans' opinions on the strength of the U.S. national defense. Americans have typically been fairly divided about whether the U.S. defense was not strong enough or about right. The major exceptions were in 1990 and 2020. Historically, relatively few have said the U.S. defense was stronger than it needs to be.
Republicans Mainly Responsible for Shifts in Views on Defense
Most of the change in attitudes about U.S. defense spending or the strength of the U.S. defense is driven by Republicans. Two years ago, 72% of Republicans said spending was about right; 23% hold that view today. Meanwhile, the percentage of Republicans who say the U.S. spends too little on defense has nearly tripled, from 22% to 62%. There also has been a meaningful increase since 2020 in the percentage of Republicans saying the U.S. spends too much on defense.
Democrats' opinions on defense spending have mostly been stable, although there has been a slight decline in the percentage in the group who say the U.S. is spending too much on defense.
More independents now than in 2020 say the U.S. is spending too little on defense, with most of that increase being offset by a decline in the percentage saying the U.S. spends too much.
The vast majority of Republicans, 79%, now say that the U.S. national defense is not strong enough, whereas in 2020, most Republicans said it was about right.
Independents' opinions have moved in the same direction as Republicans' but to a far lesser degree.
Democrats are slightly more inclined now than in 2020 to say the U.S. defense strength is "about right."
|Stronger than it needs to be||3||3||3|
|Not strong enough||30||52||79|
|Stronger than it needs to be||13||15||14|
|Not strong enough||21||35||37|
|Stronger than it needs to be||24||22||18|
|Not strong enough||22||21||18|
Prior to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Americans were evenly split as to whether the U.S. was spending too much, the right amount or too little on the military and defense. They were also evenly divided on whether the U.S. defense was not strong enough or about right.
Historically, Americans' attitudes about defense and the military have varied according to current U.S. policy and international and domestic events. So far, the U.S. military has not been directly involved in the Russia-Ukraine war. The U.S. and its allies are using economic sanctions against Russia and military aid to Ukraine to try to end the hostilities, hoping to avoid a larger war that would involve the U.S. and other NATO countries.
To stay up to date with the latest Gallup News insights and updates, follow us on Twitter.
Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.