The Political Economy of Military Spending in the United States

By Alex Mintz | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 4

‘Too Little,’ but Not For Too Long: Public Attitudes on Defense Spending

Richard J. Stoll

Making foreign and defense policy in a democracy is a mixed blessing. On the one hand, some feel that there is no more powerful a force than a democracy with the ire of its people aroused. On the other hand, a foreign and defense policy heavily influenced by the will of the people is seen by many as a source of weakness and vacillation in an unfriendly world. This chapter is concerned with one question related to the making of foreign and defense policy in the United States: What accounts for the attitude of the American public toward US defense spending?

The question is an important one for several reasons. First, the presumption of some that public opinion is fickle, changeable, and susceptible to wide fluctuations without any underlying rationale can be examined. If it can be shown that public opinion on defense spending is systematically related to a set of factors, this presumption is called into question (for recent work which asserts that US public opinion is systematically structured, see Nincic 1988 and Shapiro and Page 1988). Second, work by Ostrom and Marra (1986) demonstrates that, when a strong consensus exists in the public on desired changes in defense spending, it can have a discernible impact on the budget process. Understanding what could produce this consensus is important for forecasting future budgets. Finally, if we know what factors are associated with public opinion on this issue, we could come to some understanding about how public opinion can be influenced on this issue. This is a matter of particular importance for President Bush, since recent events in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union have produced an atmosphere that would appear to make it difficult, if not impossible, for him to sustain his desired defense program.

To explore the basis of public opinion on defense spending, we will analyze a set of factors accounting for the proportion of the public which believed

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