Cut spending (but don’t really)

CUT SPENDING (BUT DON’T REALLY)…. Politicians love to say what they think voters want to hear, and in this climate, that means promising to “cut spending.” Folks are usually rather vague about where, exactly, spending should be cut, and there’s a very good reason for that.

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GW’s John Sides published this chart yesterday in a great Salon piece, noting that the American National Election Study asked a national sample in 2012 about various areas of public spending, and whether current funding levels should go up, down, or stay the same. These results reflect the attitudes of self-identified conservatives.

Apparently, conservatives want to cut spending … except for all of the things the government actually spends money on. They no doubt like the idea of spending cuts, but balk at the particulars. (It’s the opposite of health care reform, in which people balk at the general idea, but love the specific policy details that make up the reform package.)

It’s a reminder as one of the reasons Republicans failed so spectacularly when they were in the majority and controlled all the levers of government — the right says “yes” to tax cuts, “no” to spending cuts, “yes” to huge deficits, all while paying lip service to fiscal responsibility. As an approach to governance, it’s incoherent and it doesn’t work.

What’s more, also note that these results were not especially unique. Pew recently asked people if they wanted to see more spending, less spending, or no change on various parts of the budget. The only area that cracked the 20% threshold was “foreign aid,” and even here, only 34% support cuts. In literally every other area of the budget, people wanted to see more spending, not less.

It’s something voters should try to keep in mind during the midterms. For every candidate who boasts about his/her desire to cut spending, there should be a straightforward follow-up: where? If they can’t answer the question, they probably don’t mean what they’re saying.

* Update: Looks like Sides erred on the chart. The original has been replaced.