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Out of Control Policy Blog Archives: 2.24.13–3.2.13

New Reason-Rupe National Poll Examines Public's Opinions on Drones, the Nanny State, Minimum Wage, Immigration and Health Care

A majority of Americans, 57 percent, believe it is unconstitutional for the president of the United States to order the killing of American citizens who are suspected of being terrorists, a new Reason-Rupe poll finds. 

Even more, 59 percent, say they are concerned “the government may abuse its power” when it comes to using drone strikes on American citizens who are suspected of being terrorists.

As the use of drones by domestic law enforcement agencies grows, 60 percent of Americans are now concerned that their local police departments might utilize drones to invade their privacy.

The public is split, 47-47, on whether or not they “should have the right to destroy” a drone that is taking pictures or videos of their home.

The Reason-Rupe poll conducted live interviews with 1,002 adults on mobile (502) and landline (500) phones from February 21-25, 2013. The poll’s margin of error is plus or minus 3.8 percent. Princeton Survey Research Associates International executed the nationwide survey.

Presidential, Congressional Approval

Nearly six in ten Americans say the country is headed in the wrong direction. But 51 percent approve of the job President Barack Obama is doing, 43 percent disapprove. The president’s handling of the economy gets lower marks: 47 percent approve, 49 percent disapprove. But nothing in the Reason-Rupe poll gets lower marks than Congress: 77 percent of Americans disapprove of the job Congress is doing, just 14 percent approve.

Minimum Wage

In his State of the Union address, President Obama proposed raising the minimum wage from $7.25 per hour to $9.00 an hour. Two-thirds of Americans favor the president’s proposal.

However, if raising the minimum wage would cause some employers to lay off workers, only 37 percent say they’d still support raising it and 56 percent would oppose it.

If the minimum wage is increased, 42 percent expect that it would reduce the number of jobs in the country, 41 percent anticipate it would have no impact and 13 percent believe raising the minimum wage would increase the number of jobs.

Health Care Law

As the president’s signature health care law nears the three-year anniversary of its signing, 31 percent of Americans believe the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act has made the country better off, while 37 percent feel it has made the country worse off.

Although “affordable” is in the law’s name, 58 percent of Americans say the Affordable Care Act has not made an impact on the affordability of health care, 26 percent say it has actually made it harder to afford health care and 13 percent say it has made it easier to afford health care.

Banning Soda and Energy Drinks for Public Health

New York City is about to prohibit restaurants, food carts, movie theaters, stadiums and arenas from selling sugary drinks larger than 16 ounces. And Mayor Michael Bloomberg is now encouraging the state government to follow his lead. Over seven in ten Americans, however, disagree with Mr. Bloomberg. Seventy-one percent say the sale of soft drinks larger than 16 ounces should be allowed in theaters, restaurants and other venues.

Nearly the same number, 68 percent, say banning large servings of soda is not an effective way to fight obesity.

Meanwhile in Chicago, one of the city’s aldermen is calling for a ban on energy drinks like Red Bull, 5-hour Energy and Monster. Reason-Rupe finds 59 percent of Americans believe the sale of energy drinks should be allowed.

Immigration

Fifty-five percent of those surveyed say unauthorized immigrants currently living in the United States should be allowed to stay in the country and apply for citizenship. Twenty-seven percent say unauthorized immigrants should be deported.

2016 Presidential Race

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is running well ahead of all other 2016 presidential contenders. When asked, open-ended, who they would most like to see run for president in 2016, Clinton garnered 22 percent of support. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and Sen. Marco Rubio were each named by 3 percent of respondents. Vice President Joe Biden got 2 percent and Rep. Paul Ryan got 1 percent.

Full Poll

The full poll is online here and additional Reason-Rupe poll resources are available here. This is the latest in a series of Reason-Rupe public opinion surveys dedicated to exploring what Americans really think about government and major issues. This Reason Foundation project is made possible thanks to the generous support of the Arthur N. Rupe Foundation.

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Economy Declined as Government Spending Rose

In the wake of stunning news that the U.S. economy shrunk by 0.1% in the last quarter of 2012, prominent media outlets and commentators are reporting that lower government spending is the cause of the economic decline. In reality, however, government spending rose by 0.8%, and the claim that it fell stems from a federal report that defines "government spending" so narrowly that it excludes 47% of all government spending.

On January 30th, the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) issued a preliminary report stating that gross domestic product (GDP) decreased by 0.1% in the fourth quarter of 2012. The report emphasized that this is an "advance estimate ... based on source data that are incomplete or subject to further revision..." The report also stated that the decrease in GDP "reflected negative contributions from private inventory investment, federal government spending, and exports..."

Seizing upon the "federal government spending" aspect of this report, some journalists, commentators and organizations have claimed that reduced government spending is dragging down the economy. This was the focal point of a combative exchange on CNBC between on-air editor Rick Santelli and senior economics reporter Steve Liesman. Attributing the decline in GDP to left-leaning government policies, Santelli stated, "When you act like Europe, you get growth rates like Europe, and our discussions with economists sounds like we're in Europe!" To which Liesman shot back, "We reduced government spending by 15 percent! That's not Europe!"

In fact, government spending rose by 0.8%, and the decline that Liesman and others are citing only applies to a narrow segment of spending that excludes most social program benefits. This is shown in BEA's report on GDP, which reveals that the "government spending" in this report consists of "government consumption expenditures and gross investment." This is merely a subset of government spending that excludes 69% of all federal spending and 20% of all state and local spending. As BEA explains in its "Primer on Government Accounts" and its webpage on measures of government spending":

 

  • "Consumption expenditures include what government spends on its work force and for goods and services, such as fuel for military jets and rent for government buildings and other structures."
  • "Gross investment includes what government spends on structures, equipment, and software, such as new highways, schools, and computers."
  • "Government consumption expenditures and gross investment ... is a measure of government spending on goods and services that are included in GDP."
  • "Total spending by government is much larger than the spending included in GDP."

 

In sum, what BEA categorizes as "government spending" in its GDP reports doesn't include items such as unemployment benefits, food stamps, welfare payments, subsidized housing, Medicaid benefits, Social Security benefits, Medicare benefits, foreign aid, and interest on the national debt. This amounts to 47% of all federal, state and local government spending, largely consisting of social programs that advocates for more government spending say will spur economic growth.

The BEA report in question estimates that "government spending" declined by 15% in the fourth quarter of 2012, consisting of a 22% decline in national defense, a 1% increase in other federal spending, and 1% decrease in state and local spending. Again, these figures are preliminary, they only apply to selected categories of government spending, and real total government expenditures actually increased by 1%.

Hence, if one were to draw a simplistic conclusion from this data (as reporters and analysts have done), an accurate assessment would be that increased overall government spending-with more spending on social programs and less on national defense-accompanied the decline in GDP.

It is important to note that the above-cited figures are comparisons between the third and fourth quarters of 2012, and quarterly figures on government spending tend to fluctuate. Thus, when journalists and commentators focus on short-term data as they have done in this case, they obscure the larger picture of what has taken place in the past several years and over the longer term. Consider the following.

As shown in the graph below, total government spending rose dramatically in 2008 and 2009 and has since consumed more of the nation's economy than at any time since 1960, which is as far back as this BEA data goes. BEA also tracks a slightly less inclusive measure of government spending (called current expenditures) that dates back to 1929. By this measure, government spending consumed more of the nation's economy during 2009-2011 than ever recorded in the history of the nation, including the peak of World War II. And in 2012, current spending was just a hair below the peak of World War II.

Combined Federal, State & Local Government Spending

James D. Agresti is the president of Just Facts, a nonprofit institute dedicated to researching and publishing verifiable facts about public policy.

 

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