New Harris Poll Underlines Political Difficulty of Cutting Government Services Many are widely supported by large majorities of the public, including many Republicans

NEW YORK, March 7, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- A new Harris Poll finds that large majorities of the public are supportive of many government services.  It points to the political difficulties of cutting government spending if those cuts are perceived as reducing the quantity or quality of the popular programs and the services that they provide.  Specifically large majorities, more than 70% of all adults, including 60% or more of Republicans, say they support crime fighting services, Social Security, Medicare, the national park services, defense, aid to public schools, unemployment services, environmental protection, Medicaid and intelligence services.

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These are some of the results of The Harris Poll of 3,171 adults surveyed online between February 14 and 21, 2011 by Harris Interactive.

The survey asked about 13 different types of government services and programs, using the same list and the same programs as in three previous Harris Polls, conducted in 2005, 2008 and 2009, so that it measure changes in attitudes to these government services over time.

The main findings are:

  • The most popular services and programs, supported by 80% or more of the public, are crime fighting and prevention (88% support a great deal, or somewhat), Medicare (88%), Social Security (85%), the National Parks (82%) and defense (80%). Very large majorities (77% or more)  of Democrats, Republicans and Independents support all of these;
  • Also popular with large majorities of adults are federal aid to public schools (79%), unemployment benefits (76%), environmental protection (76%), Medicaid (74%), and intelligence services (73%).  More Democrats than Republicans support aid to schools, unemployment benefits, environmental protection and Medicaid, but 60% or more of Republicans also support them;
  • Smaller majorities of the public support food stamps (61%) and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (56%); and,
  • The one program on the list that is not supported by a majority of the public is foreign aid. Only 34% support it.

Trends

Support for many of these programs and services has gone up and down over the years.  Support for several programs is a little lower now than it was in 2009.  For example, there is slightly less support in 2011 than in 2009 for unemployment benefits (down from 82% to 76%), Medicaid (down from 79% to 74%) and intelligence services (down from 79% to 73%).  On the other hand, support for many of these programs and services is higher now than it was in 2005 when the questions were first asked. For example, support has increased, by 10 points or more, for crime fighting and prevention (from 77% to 88%), Medicare (76% to 88%), aid to public schools (69% to 79%) and intelligence services (61% to 73%).  

So What?

This Harris Poll underlines the difficulty faced by lawmakers who want to reduce the budget deficit by cutting spending on public services and programs.  This seems to be another case of the phenomenon described in other recent Harris Polls of "hate the forest, but like the trees", where the forest is government spending and the trees are the programs on which the government spends money.

Why do different programs become more or less popular over time?  Polls are much better at measuring trends than at explaining them so we can only speculate.  It is probably true that the state of the economy and consumer sentiment is a factor. When consumer confidence is high (and it was higher in 2005) support for government services may decline.  When the economy is in bad shape, and consumer confidence declines, as it had in 2008 and 2009, public support for many government programs probably increases. Now that there has been a modest improvement in the economy and in consumer sentiment, support for public services has slipped a little.

TABLE 1

LEVEL OF SUPPORT FOR 13 GOVERNMENT SERVICES

"For each of the following government services, please indicate how strongly you support the policy or service."


Base: All adults



A great deal/
Somewhat (NET)

A Great Deal

Some-what

Not very much/Not at all (NET)

Not
Very Much

Not
At All

Crime-fighting and prevention

%

88

49

39

12

9

3

Medicare, the health insurance program for the elderly and disabled

%

88

57

31

12

8

4

Social Security

%

85

58

28

15

9

6

National Park Services

%

82

41

41

18

12

6

Defense

%

80

43

37

20

14

6

Federal aid to public schools

%

79

44

34

21

12

9

Unemployment benefits

%

76

36

40

24

17

6

Environmental protection

%

76

36

39

24

17

8

Medicaid, the health insurance program for people with very low incomes

%

74

37

37

26

18

8

Intelligence services

%

73

30

44

27

19

7

Food stamps

%

61

25

37

39

25

14

Immigration and naturalization process

%

56

22

34

44

25

19

Foreign aid

%

34

8

8

66

37

28

Note: Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding.




TABLE 2

SUPPORT FOR GOVERNMENT SERVICES – SINCE 2005

"For each of the following government services, please indicate how strongly you support the policy or service."

Summary of "A Great Deal/Somewhat"

Base: All adults



2005

2008

2009

2011

CHANGE
2005-2011

CHANGE
2009-2011

%

%

%

%

%

%

Crime-fighting and prevention

77

91

88

88

+11

-

Medicare, the health insurance program for the elderly and disabled

76

90

90

88

+12

-2

Social Security

76

88

86

85

+9

-1

National Park Service

85

88

83

82

-3

-1

Defense

71

85

83

80

+9

-3

Federal aid to public schools

69

83

81

79

+10

-2

Unemployment benefits

74

83

82

76

+2

-6

Environmental protection

N/A

81

74

76

N/A

+2

Medicaid, the health insurance program for people with very low incomes

71

80

79

74

+3

-5

Intelligence services

61

79

79

73

+12

-6

Food stamps

59

65

64

61

+2

-3

Immigration and naturalization process

47

64

55

56

+9

+1

Foreign aid

40

41

37

34

-6

-3

AVERAGE (MEAN)

67

78

76

73



Note: Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding.




TABLE 3

SUPPORT FOR GOVERNMENT SERVICES – BY PARTY

"For each of the following government services, please indicate how strongly you support the policy or service."

Summary of "A Great Deal/Somewhat"

Base: All adults



Total

Party I.D.

Republican

Democrat

Independent

%

%

%

%

Crime-fighting and prevention

88

89

89

89

Medicare, the health insurance program for the elderly and disabled

88

86

92

90

Social Security

85

81

93

85

National Park Service

82

79

85

84

Defense

80

88

77

81

Federal aid to public schools

79

70

90

77

Unemployment benefits

76

67

86

77

Environmental protection

76

64

88

75

Medicaid, the health insurance program for people with very low incomes

74

60

86

74

Intelligence services

73

78

74

74

Food stamps

61

46

75

61

Immigration and naturalization process

56

49

65

55

Foreign aid

34

26

44

32

Note: Percentages may not add to 100% due to rounding.




Methodology

This Harris Poll was conducted online within the United States between February 14 to 21, 2011 among 3,171 adults (aged 18 and over). Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, region and household income were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population. Propensity score weighting was also used to adjust for respondents' propensity to be online.

All sample surveys and polls, whether or not they use probability sampling, are subject to multiple sources of error which are most often not possible to quantify or estimate, including sampling error, coverage error, error associated with nonresponse, error associated with question wording and response options, and post-survey weighting and adjustments. Therefore, Harris Interactive avoids the words "margin of error" as they are misleading. All that can be calculated are different possible sampling errors with different probabilities for pure, unweighted, random samples with 100% response rates. These are only theoretical because no published polls come close to this ideal.

Respondents for this survey were selected from among those who have agreed to participate in Harris Interactive surveys. The data have been weighted to reflect the composition of the adult population. Because the sample is based on those who agreed to participate in the Harris Interactive panel, no estimates of theoretical sampling error can be calculated.

These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

The results of this Harris Poll may not be used in advertising, marketing or promotion without the prior written permission of Harris Interactive.

J39370

Q805

The Harris Poll® #31, March 7, 2011

By Humphrey Taylor, Chairman, The Harris Poll, Harris Interactive

About Harris Interactive

Harris Interactive is one of the world's leading custom market research firms, leveraging research, technology, and business acumen to transform relevant insight into actionable foresight. Known widely for the Harris Poll and for pioneering innovative research methodologies, Harris offers expertise in a wide range of industries including healthcare, technology, public affairs, energy, telecommunications, financial services, insurance, media, retail, restaurant, and consumer package goods. Serving clients in over 215 countries and territories through our North American, European, and Asian offices and a network of independent market research firms, Harris specializes in delivering research solutions that help us – and our clients – stay ahead of what's next. For more information, please visit www.harrisinteractive.com.

Press Contact:

Corporate Communications

Harris Interactive

212-539-9600

press@harrisinteractive.net



SOURCE Harris Interactive



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