From the latest PIPA survey:
It's no wonder that politicians like to rail against wasteful spending without giving too many specifics. Voters have no clue what's in the budget, but they're sure there's a lot of waste.
Voters have been overestimating spending on foreign aid for a long time. Economists have done a bit of jumping up and down about it, but the problem isn't getting any better:
This set of questions has been asked repeatedly since the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) first asked them in 1995, and it was subsequently asked by other organizations as well. Over the years the most common median estimate was that foreign aid represented 20 percent of the budget, most recently in a 2004 poll by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.And, as usual, education predicts being (more) sensible (though it may be confounded by IQ):
Thus the most recent number represents an increase of 5 points in the median estimate. Steven Kull, director of PIPA comments, "This increase may be due to Americans hearing more about aid efforts occurring in Iraq, Afghanistan and Haiti over the last few years. There have been some increases in foreign aid under both Presidents Bush and Obama, but, of course, nowhere near to the perceived level."
In the current poll estimates of foreign aid vary by education, growing more accurate with higher levels of education. Among those with less than a high school education the median estimate was that foreign aid represented an extraordinary 45 percent of the budget, those with only a high school diploma 25 percent, those with some college at 20 percent. However, even those with a college degree or higher still overestimate by a wide margin, with a median estimate of 15 percent of the budget.I like that the New York Times's budget simulator puts foreign aid cuts right up top so folks can quickly see that cutting foreign aid in half saves about as much money as a 5% pay cut for federal workers. Of course, it's only budget geeks playing the simulator anyway; we'd expect them to have a better idea about the composition of the budget.
Steven Kull comments, "It is quite extraordinary that this extreme overestimation has persisted for so many years, even among those with higher education."
Overall, the percentage of respondents who estimated anywhere near the correct amount was quite small. Only 19 percent estimate that foreign aid is 5 percent or less of the budget.
I suppose you could square things by reckoning that the median voter counts a lot of military spending as foreign aid. I'm not sure that puts voters in any better light.