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.