In Trade-Off Exercise to Help Reduce Deficit, Majority from All Parties Favor Buffet Rule, Reducing Nuclear Warheads and Reducing Foreign Aid

"Buffet Rule" Considered Solid Option for Reducing Deficit by Democrats, Republicans and Independents

Similar to our survey design from the 2012 and 2013 Spring reports, we included a series of questions aimed at determining the preference that 18- to 29- year olds have for potential deficit reduction measures when they are paired against others in a pairwise comparison model. The objective of this series of questions is to look beyond traditional open-ended questions and forced rankings in an attempt to understand how various budget choices (reducing spending and increasing revenue) compare across a broad spectrum of priorities in a time of limited government resources.

Beginning with two lists of six options (12 in total) for reducing the federal budget deficit by approximately equal amounts, we randomly paired one against the other and asked survey respondents to choose which one is more important (and how much more important): Option A or Option B.

The first group, which policy experts believe would reduce the deficit by approximately $160 to $190 Billion by 2020 if enacted today, included the following:

  1. Raise the retirement age for Social Security from 65 to 68;
  2. Increase gas tax by 15 cents per gallon;
  3. Reduce food stamp levels to 2008 levels and limit growth in spending on food stamps to the rate of inflation; 
  4. Reduce US Navy fleet to 230 ships (from a projected 320 ships);
  5. Enact the “Buffet Rule,” a requirement that people making over $1 million a year pay at least 30% of their income in taxes;
  6. Raise Medicare premiums to 35% of costs. 

Within this series of ideas aimed to reduce the deficit, 18- to 29- year olds chose enacting the “Buffet Rule” 69 percent of the time it was paired against the five other options; this was the most popular initiative measured within this grouping and it won a majority of its pairings across Democratic (83%), Republican (57%) and Independent (69%) subgroups.

The second most popular initiative was reducing food stamp levels to 2008 levels and limit growth in spending on food stamps to the rate of inflation; this concept was preferred 58 percent of the time when matched up again the other 5 initiatives -- however, unlike the Buffet Rule, it did not receive majority support from Democrats; this proposal won 44 percent of its match-ups from Democrats, compared to 76 percent among Republicans and 60 percent among Independents.

Democrats (63%) alternatively were more likely than Republicans (41%) or Independents (51%) to support a reduction in the Navy fleet as a way to reduce the federal deficit.

In one of a few areas of convergence in the survey, Democrats and Republicans largely viewed proposals focused on raising the retirement age for Social Security (was preferred 38% of the time by Democrats, 45% by Republicans), increasing the gas tax by 15 cents per gallon (was preferred 36% of the time by Democrats, 33% by Republicans) and raising Medicare premiums to 35 percent of costs (was preferred 29% of the time by Democrats, 31% by Republicans) through the same lens.

Millennials Protecting of K-12 Funding and Social Security Benefits In Second Trade-Off Exercise

Public policy experts believe that each item from the second group of deficit reduction proposals could save the government $70 to $90 Billion by 2020 if enacted today.  They include:

  1. Cut federal K-12 funding by 25 percent; 
  2. Cut foreign economic aid in half; 
  3. Increase gas tax by 6 cents; 
  4. Reduce Social Security benefits, except for workers who earn below the 30th percentile of earnings;
  5. Significantly reduce the Earned Income Tax Credit, an offset to payroll taxes for low-income workers with children, and the Child Tax Credit; 
  6. Reduce spending related to the nuclear arsenal by reducing U.S. nuclear warheads from approximately 2,000 to approximately 1,550.

Within this grouping, some consensus among the partisans was also evident as clear priorities emerged.  For example, 71 percent (including 73% of Democrats, 78% of Republicans and 69% of Independents) preferred cutting foreign economic aid in half when measured against all other options and 70 percent (including 78% of Democrats, 59% of Republicans and 73% of Independents) preferred reducing the nuclear arsenal from 2,000 to 1,550 warheads when this was paired against the other 5 proposals.

Additionally, Millennials under 30 were strongly opposed to cutting federal K-12 funding by 25 percent (including 20% of Democrats, 23% of Republicans and 23% of Independents) and reducing Social Security benefits (including 35% of Democrats, 32% of Republicans and 35% of Independents) when this proposals were paired against the other five in their grouping.

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