Trends in Public Support for a Federal Balanced Budget Amendment

Forthcoming in Public Budgeting & Finance is a paper by Andrew Crosby (Pace University) and Allyson Holbrook (University of Illinois-Chicago) titled “Public Support for a Balanced Budget Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: Trends and Predictors.” Here is the abstract:

Although researchers have explored policy attitudes in domains that require expertise (e.g., medicine), less research has explored policy attitudes related to economic policies that also require expertise to understand. This paper examines public opinion about a balanced budget amendment (BBA) to the U.S. Constitution. Using data from 38 national public opinion polls conducted over 36 years, we find that support for a BBA is related to respondent and contextual factors. Support for a BBA has become more polarized along party and ideological lines over time, and implications of a BBA for other policies affect people’s support for an amendment.

Crosby and Holbrook provide some determinants in a series of logit regressions, but I think the trends of the raw data are most interesting. Over time, they find that support for a BBA has generally been flat (even though the polls and survey methodology change over time), but high at around 76%. Interestingly, democrats have slightly reduced their support while republicans have increased, here is their Figure 1:


Public support is high here despite the fact that public finance scholars and economists are generally unfavorable toward such a policy. What is particularly interesting is that support is so high (and basically bi-partisan) yet we do not have such a policy. Amending constitutions are difficult, and perhaps if it was on the table support would go down as it became a subject they learned more about (making them more like economists). Another possibility is that parties avoid the topic. In Bryan Caplan’s Myth of the Rational Voter, heposits that politicians try hard to give voters what they want, but voters often want contradictory things. Here you could imagine an politician looking at BBA and reasoning “my voters want a BBA, but they also like being employed, and economists tell me these two are likely to be in conflict with one another; so long as voters don’t punish me too much for ignoring the BBA request I will protect their employment.”


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