Extravagant to Responsible: American Attitudes towards Government Spending

by Elizabeth Fender

Mar 1, 2017

Americans generally oppose high government spending and believe spending should be cut. Moreover, many Americans feel that government often spends on the wrong programs, or at best on a mix of the right and wrong programs, and that taxpayers would do a better job spending taxpayer money wisely. However, when it comes to instituting spending cuts, Americans are tentative. The majority support cuts over time and small cuts to a variety of programs rather than large cuts to just a few, if given the option. While high government spending is unpopular, more sustainable spending is unfamiliar, and the path to it may seem daunting to Americans. This alloyed view of government spending may put off or confuse those who would seek to put federal spending on a more sustainable track.There are number of paths for building a positive, exciting vision for lower government spending. Americans are highly distrustful of government -- and its role in spending -- and respond well to Congress closing loopholes, increasing transparency and accountability, and setting and enforcing clear, honest, reasonable budgets. Americans see a strong connection between the health of the broader economy and their own personal prosperity. Accordingly, messages connecting lower spending to the strength of the economy perform very strongly. Importantly, both messages are even stronger when connected to the deeply personal benefits of "providing for your family" or "improving your family's quality of life". "It's the economy, stupid" is half right. To deepen the emotional connection, it is more effective to connect the economy to the impact it is having on people's lives. There are other benefits to lowering spending that can be tied back to personal benefits for an overall strong message, as with the economy. Connecting lower spending and reduced taxes to Americans' ability to provide for their families and have peace of mind can build a strong message. Similarly, joining lower spending and increased economic opportunity to a better quality of life and greater security helps Americans envision the positive impact to their own lives if government spending were under control.

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