The American public is in favor of less total government spending, but it would prefer to avoid reducing spending in almost every category.
Here are two figures showing results from an AP/NORC poll (March 29, 2023).
The first figure shows results for whether people believe the government is overspending as a whole. Overall, 60% of the public thinks government spends “too much” and 16% says “too little,” with 22% in the “about right” category.
But when you ask about specific categories, the public wants to see expanded spending in most areas. The only area which has a clear majority for spending “too much” is assistance to other countries. Other surveys have typically found that the public vastly overestimates the amount spent in this category, usually thinking that it covers about 25-30% of total federal spending–when it actually is only about 1% of all federal spending.
The conflict between these results–which are from the same survey!–suggests that the public wants politicians who advocate both for less total spending and also more spending in many individual categories. On this subject, in other words, the public is wide-open to embracing demagoguery.
Timothy Taylor is an American economist. He is managing editor of the Journal of Economic Perspectives, a quarterly academic journal produced at Macalester College and published by the American Economic Association. Taylor received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Haverford College and a master's degree in economics from Stanford University. At Stanford, he was winner of the award for excellent teaching in a large class (more than 30 students) given by the Associated Students of Stanford University. At Minnesota, he was named a Distinguished Lecturer by the Department of Economics and voted Teacher of the Year by the master's degree students at the Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs. Taylor has been a guest speaker for groups of teachers of high school economics, visiting diplomats from eastern Europe, talk-radio shows, and community groups. From 1989 to 1997, Professor Taylor wrote an economics opinion column for the San Jose Mercury-News. He has published multiple lectures on economics through The Teaching Company. With Rudolph Penner and Isabel Sawhill, he is co-author of Updating America's Social Contract (2000), whose first chapter provided an early radical centrist perspective, "An Agenda for the Radical Middle". Taylor is also the author of The Instant Economist: Everything You Need to Know About How the Economy Works, published by the Penguin Group in 2012. The fourth edition of Taylor's Principles of Economics textbook was published by Textbook Media in 2017.