Cutting the Debt Is Important to 96 Percent of Americans and 74 Percent Want a Government Spending Cap

News Release

Cutting the Debt Is Important to 96 Percent of Americans and 74 Percent Want a Government Spending Cap

Tired of red ink and politics as usual, 80 percent say theyâ??d consider voting for a third-party or independent presidential candidate in 2012

As the federal government rapidly approaches the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling, 96 percent of Americans say it is important to reduce the national debt, according to a new Reason Foundation-Rupe poll. Of those surveyed, 69 percent believe reducing the national debt is “very important.”

With the debt piling up, it is also clear that taxpayers do not trust the federal government to live within its means. In fact, the Reason-Rupe survey finds 74 percent of Americans support implementing a spending cap that would prohibit the government from spending more money than it takes in during a fiscal year. Only 19 percent oppose a government spending cap.

The most popular policy prescription for reducing the national debt is spending cuts: 45 percent of people say Congress should bring down the debt by reducing spending without raising taxes. Another 16 percent favor reducing the debt primarily through spending cuts, but are open to some tax increases; 14 percent prefer an equal emphasis on spending cuts and tax increases; 8 percent want to reduce the debt primarily through higher taxes with some spending cuts; 4 percent say current spending levels should be maintained and taxes should be raised as needed; and 1 percent of Americans say we shouldn’t do anything about the debt.

Open-Ended Questions on the Economy and Spending

The Reason-Rupe poll included several open-ended questions that allowed respondents to voice concerns and share their own ideas. When asked to name the biggest problem facing America today, 30 percent say the economy, 23 percent emphasize jobs and unemployment, and 10 percent cite government spending, debts and deficits.

When given the opportunity to name any government program they’d like to spend less money on 22 percent of Americans suggest cutting military and defense spending. Welfare (10 percent) and foreign aid (10 percent) were the other most-named cuts. When asked, open-ended, what the government should spend more money on, 39 percent say education, 16 percent focus on helping the poor and needy, and 13 percent single out health care.

2012 Presidential Election

With the 2012 election season ramping up, frustrated voters appear ready to look beyond Democratic and Republican candidates. Eighty percent say they will or may consider voting for a third-party or independent presidential candidate in 2012. And an even higher number of independents (89 percent) and GOP voters (86 percent) say they will or may consider candidates outside of the two major political parties.

The willingness to look beyond Democrats and Republicans stems, in part, from voters’ lack of trust in them. When asked which political party they trust to govern responsibly, the leading answer was “neither,” at 35 percent, followed by Democrats at 31 percent and Republicans at 23 percent. The survey also found 58 percent of voters believe they’d either see “no difference” or be “better off” if Congress were only in session every other year.


Having recently filed their federal income taxes, 56 percent of Americans support replacing the current complicated tax system with a flat tax. Forty-four percent also favor, and 36 percent oppose, giving up the mortgage interest deduction and other tax breaks if it results in a simpler system with lower overall tax rates. One tax change that respondents are against is a national sales tax. Just 33 percent of Americans support replacing federal income taxes with a national sales tax.

When asked about the amount of federal, state, local and property taxes they pay, 51 percent of Americans say they pay too much in taxes, 41 percent believe they pay about the right amount and 4 percent think they pay too little.

Public Sector Benefits and Pensions

Half of all respondents say that public sector workers receive better benefits that those with similar jobs in the private sector, but only 37 percent support cutting those public employee benefits to help balance state budgets.

Drug Legalization and Medical Marijuana

Forty-one percent of the country supports legalizing small quantities of marijuana for personal use, while 44 percent opposes legalization. And in the wake of federal raids on medical cannabis dispensaries in states where medical marijuana has already been legalized, 69 percent of Americans say each state should be allowed to regulate medical marijuana use within its borders.

Full Poll Online

The complete Reason-Rupe survey is online at and here (pdf).

This Reason-Rupe poll surveyed a random, national sample of 1,200 adults by telephone (859 on landlines, 341 on cell phones) from March 24 to April 9, 2011. The results have a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. The poll was conducted for Reason Foundation by NSON Opinion Strategy.

This is the first 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.

About Reason Foundation

Reason Foundation is a nonprofit think tank dedicated to advancing free minds and free markets and publisher of the critically-acclaimed Reason magazine and its website For more information, please visit


Emily Ekins, Polling Director, Reason Foundation, (310) 574-2961
Chris Mitchell, Director of Communications, Reason Foundation, (310) 367-6109