By Lew Blank (@_lewtube)
One of the overlooked aspects of the Trump administration has been his continuous attempts to slash spending on diplomacy.
Leading Democrats such as Chris Murphy have made the case for more, not less, investment in diplomacy.
So, which side of this debate has the support of Americans overall? With our military budget amounting to nearly half of US federal discretionary spending—larger than the militaries of the next seven countries combined—these are vital questions to ask.
To test this, we asked a sample of 1,020 voters in a Data for Progress/YouGov Blue survey this April whether they agreed or disagreed with the following statement: “The US should shift some of its budget from the military to diplomacy.” And what we found was revealing: a plurality of American voters—41 percent—support this budgetary shift, while 35 percent were in opposition.
The proposal is especially popular among Democrats: 55 percent support reallocating military funds towards diplomacy, compared to only 13 percent who oppose the reallocation.
Attitudes toward redistributing foreign policy resources also vary by age. Americans aged 18–29, 30–44, and 45–54 each supported the statement by a double-digit margin. Only the 65-plus age group was opposed.
This age disparity could be caused by a variety of factors. One might be partisanship, as younger voters are substantially more likely to identify as Democrats than older voters. Another might be lived experience; older generations who have experienced the Vietnam War, the Cold War, and other conflicts may view defense spending as a necessity, while millennials may only remember the largely unsuccessful War on Terror.
These age gaps highlight the importance of political involvement for young Americans. If young voters take political action, both at the polls and through other outlets, they can hold their representatives accountable to reducing our military expenditures to focus on other priorities.
What’s also noteworthy is that a high proportion of respondents were unsure about how to evaluate this statement. 24 percent said they were either “not sure” or could “neither agree or disagree” with this statement.
This uncertainty was particularly apparent with independent voters. While 36 percent supported the statement and 35 percent opposed, more than a quarter of independent voters — 29 percent — declined to take a stance.
While this uncertainty might make for less clear-cut survey results, it also presents an opportunity. Since many swing voters and voters overall are yet to form an opinion on reallocating military funds towards diplomacy, there is lots of room for movement if the Democratic nominee boldly and effectively advocates for reducing our military spending and ending our foreign interventions. Given that diplomacy is typically cheaper than direct military intervention, the nominee can additionally discuss the wide range of social and environmental programs that could be afforded with the savings of this reallocation.
As the 2020 Democratic campaigns progress, candidates shouldn’t be afraid of advocating for a shift in our foreign policy from weapons and war towards diplomacy and peace. Not only do a plurality of Americans support such a shift, but the Democratic nominee’s rhetoric can transform the political debate around foreign policy for uncertain voters. This election cycle presents an unparalleled opportunity for Democrats to advocate for ending the wars, refocusing our foreign policy efforts on diplomacy, and using the money saved from this shift to reinvest in the people.
Lew Blank is a progressive activist, political journalist, and student at the University of Minnesota. He manages The Outsider, an independent student-led publication that’s unafraid to challenge the status quo.