Education and health care also top the list in importance to Americans.
Public support is growing for expenditures on mass transit and infrastructure and remains high for education and health care, according to a National Opinion Research Center survey at the University of Chicago that has been following spending trends for 35 years.
The General Social Survey asked people a consistent set of questions, including whether more or less money should be spent on a priority. If more people thought more money should be spent on a category than said less should be spent, the category received a positive score. The spending priorities received a negative score when the reverse was true.
"Mass transportation moved up three positions in the ranking of 22 spending priorities and now is 10th place with a score of +40.8. This is an increase of 15.5 points from 2002," said Tom W. Smith, Director of the General Social Survey at the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago. "The especially sharp rise from 2006 to 2008 probably reflects the increased demand for mass transportation due to high gas prices in the first half of 2008."
In 13th place on the survey came support for highways and bridges. Both the rank and score for infrastructure spending set record lows in 2004, but support increased in 2006 and shot up in 2008 following the Minneapolis bridge collapse in August 2007, said Smith, who authored the survey report, "Trends in National Spending Priorities, 1973-2008.".
As in other recent surveys, spending on education topped the list in 2008. "In absolute terms, support for educational spending has been very high and changed little since 1989," Smith said. It had a score of +68.4 in 2008. After a first-place rank in 2004, health finished second in 2008 with a score of +68.1.
"In nine surveys since 1990, health topped the list twice, and education finished first seven times. Moreover, they both are consistently ahead of the next group of spending areas," Smith said.
Other top priorities include the environment, fourth at +58.7; social security, fifth at +55.7; halting crime, seventh at +55.0; assistance for child care, seventh at +47.6; and dealing with drug addiction, eighth at +47.2.
The bottom priorities (18th through 21st) include assistance to big cities, welfare, defense and space exploration. In last place at 22nd was foreign aid, with a score of -52.3. Spending on foreign aid has always been the least-popular spending priority for Americans, the survey has found.
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