President Trump stood on the deck of a brand-new naval vessel Thursday — the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Gerald R. Ford — and promised again to expand the U.S. military. Polling released the same afternoon by Gallup suggests that Americans are perfectly comfortable with that.
Trump has promised a 10 percent increase in defense spending, about $54 billion in total. Speaking from the Gerald Ford, he pledged an overhaul and expansion of the U.S. air and naval fleets and an expansion of the number of aircraft carriers to 12. (There were 10 before the launch of the Gerald Ford, and another is under construction. The Gerald Ford cost about $13 billion.)
What Trump didn’t mention is that the U.S. military is consistently rated the most powerful in the world. But Americans generally agree with the president, Gallup reports. Forty-five percent of respondents told the pollsters that the military is not strong enough, a figure that has held steady for several years. It also nearly matches the all-time high in Gallup polling, which came in 2010.
Only about 1 in 10 Americans said the military is stronger than it needs to be.
The percentage willing to pay for that stronger military is slightly smaller than the percentage saying the military is not strong enough. But the percentage of those willing to pay is higher than it has been in recent years. A bit over a third of respondents said we’re spending too little on our military, a bit more than those saying we spend about the right amount or too much.
Unsurprisingly, there’s a broad partisan split on the question. More than 6 in 10 Republicans think the United States is spending too little, while 15 percent of Democrats say the same thing.
The biggest surge in concern that the country wasn’t spending enough on its military came shortly after the inauguration of another Republican president. On Jan. 27, 1981, shortly after President Ronald Reagan was sworn in, more than half of respondents to Gallup said they thought the country was spending too little. With the end of the Cold War a decade later, though, the military was pared down significantly.
It’s probably not a coincidence that between 1990 and 1999, Gallup measured a big uptick in the number of people who thought the military needed to be stronger. If Trump is true to his word — and Congress agrees — they’re about to see their wishes fulfilled.