Astounding public confusion about the budget

ASTOUNDING PUBLIC CONFUSION ABOUT THE BUDGET…. I thought it’d be bad; I didn’t think it’d be this bad.

If you think cutting the government’s budget is as easy as taking the ax to some unpopular federal programs, a new national poll suggests that you should think again.

According to a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Friday, most Americans think that the government spends a lot more money than it actually does on such unpopular programs as foreign aid and public broadcasting.

The poll asked Americans to guess who much the federal government spends, as a percentage of the total budget, on a variety of areas. The public did relatively well when it came to some of the big-ticket items like Social Security and Medicare.

But on some of the hut-button issues, the public wasn’t even close. Americans, for example, think about 10% of the budget goes to “aid to foreign countries for international development and humanitarian assistance.” The actual number is about 1%.

Here’s an even more entertaining one: Americans think about 5% of the budget goes to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The actual number is about 0.1%. (In dollar figures, the public seems to actually believe the CPB gets $178 billion, as compared to the $420 million it received last year.)

Respondents think 10% of the budget goes to “food and nutrition assistance for the poor,” 7% goes to “housing assistance for the poor,” and 10% goes to federal funding to education. None of these figures are even close to being right — federal spending in all of these areas is a small fraction of what the public perceives. (We should be so lucky as to have so much investment in public programs and a strong safety net.)

And best of all, the CNN poll also asked whether existing funding levels should go up or down in all of these areas. My personal favorite: nearly two-thirds of the country believes federal spending on education should go up, and that’s after those same Americans have roughly quadrupled in their minds what the feds actually spend in this area.

I wonder what the public reaction would be if voters learned that House Republicans want to make massive cuts to Head Start, Pell grants, and Title I grants (which help schools with kids who live in poverty).