Tackling the Budget
When the Cold War ended, ATI survey #13-1, The Peace Dividend as the Public Sees It, found how the public wanted to use any money obtained in the US in 1990 from a "peace dividend", by reducing the deficit, reducing taxes, and/or increasing spending. Those wanting to increase spending were allowed to allocate their recommendations between a number of budget items. Three years later ATI expanded this approach in ATI #18, What the American People Want in the Federal Budget. Respondents were put in the shoes of members of Congress for the budget as a whole and for each item of the itemized budget: condensed to eight revenue and twenty spending items, aggregated to include most of the budget. Items were described in a way that was meaningful without talking down to the public. Each was presented to respondents with information: fair, pithy phrases on the content, size and history of the item.
Folk Wisdom Emerges
The result of the budget exercise was a reduction in the estimated deficit for FY’92 by 62% to $137 billion with an average ratio of spending cuts to revenue increases: 1.7 to 1. The deficit was reduced in the itemized budget by 23% to $278 billion. In the budget survey, the variation between demographic sectors, particularly between liberals, moderates and conservatives and between Republicans and Democrats, was much smaller than the public positions and postures of the ideologically polarized political leaders. There was some remarkable unanimity across political lines.
A major conclusion was that people will make the hard choices between tax increases, tax cuts, spending increases, and spending cuts when they are asked to – as we have found in all ATI surveys where the people are asked to make hard choices. People do not, in any gross way, cut taxes that impact themselves or increase those that impact others. They do not irresponsibly increase spending on themselves or cut spending on others. Seniors do not seek to cut education and job training, while younger people do support increases in spending on social security and Medicare above the budgeted amount. There is little sign of inter-generational conflict in this survey.
At the end of the 36 minute long and difficult – but reportedly much-enjoyed – budget survey, four out of five respondents said yes to
Would you like to have this kind of budget questionnaire made part of the Annual IRS Tax Return forms so that as you pay your taxes, you can let the government know your revenue and spending priorities?
"World's Greatest Survey" – New York Times
Most significantly, the people’s spending priorities were quite different from those of leaders, were essentially the same across all the major demographic sectors, and were unreported by the mainstream news media. Survey #18 was called by Mike Kagay, polling editor of the New York Times, "The World’s Greatest Survey." The New York Times ran no story on survey #18 findings, a good example of the major news media ignoring ATI findings that conflicted with their basic assumptions on public opinion.
>>> 2.2.2 Government Reform