Conflicted Conservatives

John Sides recently blogged about conservatives and spending. Despite being ideologically in favor of spending cuts, when asked about specific government programs, conservative are reluctant to cut funding to those programs.

Here's his corrected graph:

Conflictedconservatives revised-thumb I supposed his findings aren't earth-shattering. Spending went up during the Bush administration. Reagan wasn't able to eliminate programs that he hated, specifically the Department of Education. There's always been a gap between the reduced spending rhetoric and actual practice.

His graph was most interesting for the ranking of what conservatives are most willing to cut – aid to foreign countries and anything that helped poor people and kids. Law and order matters are the most popular. Social security was also important to them.

I was itching to see a comparison of policy priorities between liberals and conservatives.


16 thoughts on “Conflicted Conservatives

  1. I think one problem with the project (haven’t read the posts) is that there are roughly twice as many people who self-identify as conservatives as who self-identify as liberals.
    I think that that quantitative difference brings with it qualitative differences. I don’t know exactly where I want to go with this, but one thing it probably means is that conservatives as a group are going to be more representative of Americans as a whole than liberals as a group.
    (By the way, note the interesting discrepancy between how “aid to the poor” polls and how “welfare programs” poll.)

  2. Also, the list is missing a number of items (I apologize for the inevitable overlaps): bailouts, agricultural subsidies, special breaks for favored industries, Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, FHA, etc.

  3. The sad thing is that foreign aid is 1) such a small part of our total budget that even eliminating it completely would make hardly any difference, and 2) set up in such a way that much of it is, in part, a subsidy for domestic business. That people are so keen on reducing it mostly shows that they don’t know what they are talking about.

  4. And, regarding foreign aid 3) set up with mostly a military/national defense view in mind.
    Intriguing though, that even in this generally dismissed part of the budget, only 50% of “conservatives” wanted to cut that portion of the budget.
    But, where does this data come from? I can’t tell from the link.
    The first thing I’d like to know is how they defined conservative and liberal. I’d like to see it based on who you voted for, rather than self-identification.
    The second thing I’d like to know is what was in the list of things to cut, as AmyP alludes to. But, I don’t see where Ag subsidies would fit, nor the the financial functions (the Fed, Freddie/Fannie); regulatory functions (SEC, FERC, NHSA); direct support (NIH, NASA, NSF,

  5. only 50% of “conservatives” wanted to cut that portion of the budget.
    That also seems low to me. In the long ago past when I studied this, support for foreign aid was hugely correlated with how educated and informed you were. Perhaps Bush’s push for AIDS aid for Africa made more people informed and gave a different idea of where the money is headed (e.g. they are more thinking of giving food to starving people and less about paying Israel and Egypt not to shoot each other)?

  6. PS: You’ve overwhelmed us with bloggy goodness. I went to download to the middle school report and was disappointed that “blog” wasn’t one of the choices for where I’d found the link, since, after all, that’s exactly the kind of thing I might not have heard about, except for the blog reading I do.

  7. I suppose loans count as foreign aid, too? Those loan programs tend to be rather harmful to the recipients, based on my reading of “The White Man’s Burden”: loans get diverted for the benefit of elites, while the country as a whole is crushed by the burden of paying back the money. Likewise, the more dependent poor countries are on foreign aid, the less responsive the recipient government is to the criticism of their own people. The important people to listen to are thousands of miles away, not the citizens of your own country. Meanwhile, the existing productive local economy is stifled by subsidized foreign food? What’s not to like?
    There is good foreign aid, but it’s harder than just willy-nilly dumping money.

  8. I like Easterly too, but a lot of people who say they like him don’t really pay attention to the specifcity and breadth of his recommendations (or to the not-inconsiderable number of NGO and bilateral initiatives that are trying to do some of the things he advocates) and just use him to justify a pre-existing blanket hostility to foreign aid (or really to anything that looks like governmental action aimed at ameliorating poverty, etc.) Easterly isn’t against spending money, he just has some ideas about how to do it differently.
    The number of folks at any end of the spectrum who are literate about budgets and who apply some even-handed standards to controlling or restricting spending hover between nil and nil +1. It’s long been known that many Congressional districts represented by conservative politicians who speak the language of small government and budget hawkery turn out to be the largest net recipients of government monies. Advocating small government in many cases means, “We want ours, you don’t get yours”. I don’t think most Tea Party activists are any different–once you peel back some of the flamboyant rhetoric on the surface, you don’t see anything remotely resembling a novel vision of how to redesign government or control spending or any real budgetary literacy at all.
    When you’re talking to someone who claims they want drastic cuts in spending and they start talking about cutting excess or waste and imagining that this is all you need to do, at that point, you can stop paying attention, because that person is either cynically bullshitting you or is living in a childish dreamworld. When you’re talking to someone who claims that you just need to cut taxes even more while more or less maintaining most of your current fixed costs and open-ended budgetary commitments, ditto. Especially ditto if they believe that American military and diplomatic power needs to be capaciously committed to a massive array of open-ended missions abroad: that’s not just fantasy, it’s pretty much the equivalent of saying, “I would like the United States to collapse like most failed empires in world history”.
    When you’re talking to someone who wants to shrink spending and can explain why they think that makes both government and society better off and more effective, and they put their own interests and the interests of their community on the table along with everyone else’s interests, you can go ahead and join in that grown-up discussion in a serious way. That sometimes happens inside particular institutional worlds, but I don’t exactly expect it to happen at the national level any time soon. Most people would rather suck their thumbs and play with polemical toys instead.

  9. “The number of folks at any end of the spectrum who are literate about budgets and who apply some even-handed standards to controlling or restricting spending hover between nil and nil +1.”
    I’ve been wondering to what extent a number of current federal attempts to artificially support housing prices are due to the fact that members of congress own homes (sometimes multiple homes) in expensive housing markets. These are huge conflicts of interest, but I’ve heard very few people talk about this.
    “Most people would rather suck their thumbs and play with polemical toys instead.”
    Yes, and this is one of the more discreditable features of the Obama administration, that he has been encouraging voters to live in a fantasy world where only people who make over $250,000 a year pay more taxes, 30 million more people can be insured without increasing current costs, stimulus programs have some sort of amazing multiplier effect, and green jobs will painlessly save the economy.
    I realize that Obama also talks a good talk about fiscal responsibility, blah, blah, blah, but one of the many reasons he beat McCain was that he made much bigger promises as to what he was going to deliver. Those promises never made any sense.

  10. He’s only building on a venerable tradition initiated by Ronald Reagan that was heaped high by his Republican successors. The last moment where political leaders in the US got even momentarily real about budgets was under Bush the Elder, and what should have been a creditable moment of political courage was turned into a political liability extraordinaire, not the least because Bush the Elder had allowed his pre-Rovian campaign advisors to direct him into the political theater of proudly declaiming to the heavens that he was a thumb-sucking infant just like everyone else. Clinton got credit for being a budget hawk in part because his coffers were fed by speculative bubbles, though at least some people in his administration seemed to get why it was important. For which again they were pilloried and mocked by the Gingrichites.
    The only way to claim a high ground here is to not be on the field of battle in the first place.

  11. I agree that there’s illogical and wishful thinking on both sides of the political spectrum. It’s part of what’s creating the political gulf that means decisions are being made without people making them (because they’re engaged in wishful thinking solution). We could try to do research on who is being more wishful — the people who think that we can cut taxes and still spend everything we spend on the important stuff (defined by them) or people who think that we can raise someone else’s taxes and still spend everything we spend on the important stuff.
    I think the tough thing for people to consider are what solutions are actually being imposed on the ground, which in this case is state budgets which are less flexible than the federal budget because of the limits on deficit spending. Is that the direction they want to go?
    States are looking at steep cuts, in public K-12 education, in public universities (and granting tuition granting authority), in a range of government services. A city in California is apparently going to charge for 911 service; our next construction products are going to involve tolled roads/bridges. At the local level, we’re moving towards fee-based services.
    Right now, they’re mitigating those effects through accepting significant funds from the federal government (which can deficit spend). These funds are coming with consequences (federal control and restrictions). So we’re moving towards fee-based services at the local level and increasing federalization. That should leave something for both the left & right to worry about. That gives everyone an opportunity to really think about what their BATNA (Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement) is.

  12. which in this case is state budgets
    There’s nothing wrong with our state budget that couldn’t be solved more easily after a half-dozen to a dozen more indictments. Every time a state legislator gets indicted, an angel gets his wings.

  13. “We could try to do research on who is being more wishful — the people who think that we can cut taxes and still spend everything we spend on the important stuff (defined by them) or people who think that we can raise someone else’s taxes and still spend everything we spend on the important stuff.”
    …at the same time creating new, multi-trillion dollar programs.
    “What’s the good kind of foreign aid?”
    Easterly would say small, experimental, targeted, and with room for lots of in-put from local populations, rather than huge and top-down. He has an example of a successful program for distributing mosquito nets. Previously, in his example, mosquito nets were being distributed to anybody who would take one. Unfortunately, actual use of the nets as mosquito nets was very low–they were instead being used for things like fishing and bridal veils. Anyway, they switched gears and started selling them cheaply to women who came in for prenatal appointments and were therefore in the mood to hear about how to protect their kids (the nurses got a small cut of the price of the nets). Compliance shot up dramatically. He also talks about successful programs that pay poor families to send their children to school. Easterly’s a very smart guy.
    See, Timothy Burke, I did read the book.

  14. bj,
    The answer will undoubtedly involve increases in the eligibility age for Medicare and Social Security, with a gradual phase-in. Genetically speaking, I have an excellent chance of living into my 90s–you do not want to be paying me Social Security for 30 years when people in my family are quite capable of doing manual labor well into our 70s and 80s (my octogenarian grandparents are probably hard at work putting up an elk fence right now). (I understand that a lot of people will wind up claiming disability earlier than that, but that’s a whole lot better than giving everybody a check automatically.)
    What I would encourage politicians of both parties to do is to remind Americans that we are living longer and healthier lives and that while it’s possible that Social Security will be able to furnish grocery money for quite some time, it’s the patriotic duty of all able-bodied Americans to plan and save for their own retirements and to arrange our affairs in such a way that we will be able to provide for the less fortunate among our family, friends, and neighbors.

  15. The only way to claim a high ground here is to not be on the field of battle in the first place.
    Which is but one of many reasons to vote against everybody in Congress.

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