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The current estimate of 51 cents wasted on the dollar is similar to what Gallup measured in 2009, but marks the first time Americans believe more than half of federal spending is wasted. The low point in the trend is 38 cents wasted on the dollar, in 1986.
Americans are less likely to believe state and local governments waste money they spend than they are to believe this about the federal government, with the state estimate at 42 cents on the dollar and the local at 38 cents.
Americans have viewed the federal government as being the most wasteful of tax dollars — and local government the least — each time Gallup has asked these questions. That pattern is consistent withAmericans’ greater trust in state and local government than in the federal government.
Over time, though, Americans have become increasingly likely to see all levels of government as being wasteful of tax dollars. Americans now believe all levels of government waste at least 11 cents more on the dollar compared with 1979.
Over the last 30 years, Americans have become increasingly likely to see all levels of government as wasting the money they spend, and now the public believes the federal government wastes more than half of the money it spends. It is not clear whether Americans believe government wastes money because it spends on programs they believe are not needed, or because it does not spend money efficiently on programs, whether needed or not. Also, it is not clear whether Americans believe money is wasted more on discretionary government spending, or more on defense, entitlement programs, and interest on the debt — which make up the bulk of federal government spending.
In any case, the federal government has made efforts to rein in spending this year, as part of the 2011 budget and the deal to raise the debt ceiling limit. As part of that deal, a supercommittee of 12 members of Congress is now seeking additional areas for cuts, to avoid automatic cuts in defense and entitlement programs. State and local governments have also been forced to make cuts in order to balance budgets as revenues have come in lower as a result of the state of the economy. Still, with all of these efforts to curb spending, the average American does not appear to give government at all levels much credit for being careful in spending tax dollars.