Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget
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New Poll Finds Americans Worry About the Debt and Want the Budget More Balanced Between Generations

May 13, 2021 | Budgets & Projections

A new Ipsos poll finds that a strong majority of Americans are concerned about the national debt and want federal spending to be more balanced between generations.

Overwhelming support for a fiscally responsible federal budget: Overall, Americans show a strong preference towards fiscal responsibility and concern about large levels of federal debt. The poll found that 75% agree that we should worry about the national debt and that too much federal debt could hurt the economy. Two-thirds of Americans believe the national debt is “an unfair legacy we are leaving to our children.” And very few Americans believe unlimited borrowing is an option to finance new programs, with only 15% of Americans agreeing with the statement “since the government can always print more money, there’s no need to worry about the federal debt.” Only 30% of Americans agree that the government should cut taxes if it increases the national debt.

Large divergence between preferences and reality in the federal budget: When asked how the budget is allocated between children (0-18), adults (19-64), and seniors (65+), on average people thought it was split about evenly, and also thought that was how the federal budget should be allocated. In reality, of the portion of the federal budget allocated towards people, more than half goes to seniors while less than 15% goes to children. Those aged 13-18 who were polled believed that children and seniors should each receive about 30%, while adults should receive 40%. Those aged 19-64 thought each group should receive roughly equal allocations. Those aged 65+ believe seniors should get about 40% while adults and children should each get about 30%.

Strong majorities for future-oriented budgeting and investments: Americans also show an interest in orienting the budget towards investments. The poll found that 71% think that investing in the future should be a government priority. It showed that 79% agree that the federal government should rebuild the country’s roads and bridges and 56% think the government should spend more on research and development. At the same time, 80 percent think that the government wastes a lot of money.

About the study: These are the findings of an Ipsos poll conducted between April 23-26, 2021, on behalf of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget. For this study, a sample of 1,110 youths and adults age 13+ from the continental U.S., Alaska, and Hawaii was interviewed online in English. The poll has a credibility interval of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points for all respondents.

View the topline results here.