American support for military spending hike at highest level since 2001

Reuters / Lucas Jackson
More Americans say they want to increase defense and military spending than at any point since 2001, according to a new Gallup poll, though the public remains split.

According to the latest Gallup poll, which surveyed 837 adults over a four-day period from February 8 – 11, about 34 percent of Americans said the United States is spending “too little” on defense. By contrast, 32 percent said the US spends too much on the Pentagon.

The poll numbers arrive as the US is ramping up military efforts in the Middle East against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. The US Central Command just announced that it is assisting Iraqis in a planned spring offensive to retake the key city of Mosul. The US-led coalition continues to bombard the extremist group with airstrikes and it recently announced a deal with Turkey to train Syrian rebels against the militants.

Forty-four percent said the US military is “not strong enough,” while 42 percent said it’s “about right.” Thirteen percent said it’s “stronger than it needs to be.”

READ MORE:US, Iraq planning spring assault to retake Mosul from ISIS

In his fiscal 2016 budget unveiled in early February, President Barack Obama asked Congress to increase defense and non-defense spending, proposing a military budget of $565 billion. Republicans have expressed more concern about the budget cap on the Pentagon and key members have floated the idea of eliminating the firewall between defense and non-defense spending in order to provide a bigger Pentagon budget at the expense of domestic programs.

Gallup said the last time the majority of people believed the Pentagon budget should have more money was in 2001, but after more than 46 years of studying people’s opinions about military budgets, the survey giant noted people usually say the government‘s military budget is too high.

For comparison, Gallup found that at least half of those polled during the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 1970s said the US spent too much on defense activities. A majority also held that belief at the end of the Cold War around 1990, following a military buildup under President Ronald Reagan.

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Gallup’s previous polls have found few people saying the US has spent too little on the military. Between 2000 and 2002, which covered the 9/11 terrorists attacks, however, more people thought the US was not spending enough. The public also held that position in 1981, shortly after Reagan was elected president.

Since 2011, the belief that the US has spent too little on the military has gradually increased among all political affiliations. More than half of Republicans now say America doesn’t spend enough on defense, as do a third of independents and 17 percent of Democrats.