Americans to Pollsters: Don’t Cut Defense

by Mackenzie Eaglen

Polls are to pundits what statistics are to economists. Anyone can find a poll to support his position, but some issues poll consistently. Take national defense. Various polling tells us several key but important markers: Most Americans support spending what is necessary on defense, and a large majority of Americans (ranging from nearly 80 to 90 percent) support missile defense. But many are starting to realize the nation isn’t spending enough to maintain a robust defense.

Gallup recently said Americans are more likely now to say the United States’ national defense is “not strong enough.” This is very close to the record-high number of Americans who told Gallup the same thing two years ago. Most worrisome is a February poll that shows Americans see U.S. military superiority declining over time.

The latest poll, out today, is telling the 112th Congress that when it searches for cuts in government spending, defense is not an acceptable bill-payer. The Hill’s 2010 Midterm Election Poll clearly states “six in 10 Republicans and 53 percent of independents said they would not accept cuts to defense and homeland security spending.”

This may shock those who continue to claim that Americans, including many tea-partiers, want to cut defense. In fact, they have no data to support these statements.

The need to reinvest in the military is not an ideological sentiment but rather a baseline statement about urgent national-security needs. But don’t take my word for it. A recent blue-ribbon commission chaired by President Clinton’s secretary of defense Bill Perry and former Bush administration National Security Advisor Steve Hadley, released a report this summer that “represents a striking bipartisan consensus that the United States must do more when it comes to national defense if we are to continue to play the international role we have and pursue the interests that have animated American grand strategy since the end of World War II.”

American strength comes at a price, to be sure. But there is a price to weakness as well, one that the commission notes “in the long run would be much greater.”

Thankfully, Americans are telling pollsters of all stripes they agree — cutting defense is not an option.

— Mackenzie Eaglen is research fellow for national security at the Heritage Foundation.