parsing public opinion
By Narrow Margin, Americans Want More Defense Spending

Americans are now more supportive of increased defense spending than at any time since the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, according to a new Gallup survey, with 37 percent answering that the government should spend more on the military, 31 percent answering that it should spend less, and the remainder answering that current spending levels are appropriate.

In the majority of the years that the question has been asked, Americans have indicated that the defense budget is too large. But as Gallup points out in its write-up, support for an expanded defense budget has tended to exceed support for defense cuts at the beginning of Republican administrations—first Ronald Reagan’s, then George W. Bush’s, and now Donald Trump’s. This could be because GOP presidents tend to mold public opinion or because the public reaches for Republican government when it feels spending levels are perceived as insufficient.

President Trump’s recently-released spending plan calls for a roughly 10 percent increase to America’s $549 billion defense budget, which his administration has pitched as a major reinvestment, but which has drawn criticism from John McCain for being too modest and which actually is closely in line with President Obama’s requested military spending for 2018.

Significantly, most of the demand for rising defense spending has come from Republicans, who briefly flirted with a kind of doctrinaire small-government libertarianism while Rand Paul seemed like a rising star in the party in 2012 and 2013. Since then, according to Gallup, support for a bigger military budget among Republicans has shot up from 42 to 62 percent (and from 22 to 34 percent among independents), while Democratic support has remained mostly flat—ticking up modestly from 12 to 15 percent. On the Republican side, at least, Thomas Jefferson is out, and Andrew Jackson is back in.

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