Americans Estimate Full 5% of US Budget Goes to Public Broadcasting and Still Support It

Americans radically overestimate the amount of federal funding that goes to NPR and PBS, but still have overwhelming support for that funding.

This weekend, Talking Points Memo reported on a new CNN survey assessing Americans’ understanding and perceptions of the US budget and government spending. The poll comes just days before a potential government shut down as the House and Senate battle over spending cuts for the rest of 2011.

One of the most staggering statistics emerging from the report was the dramatic misperceptions many Americans have about the amount of money the federal government spends on public broadcasting. TPM reports that the median guess was that our government spends a whopping 5% of its total budget on public broadcasting. “With a $3.55 trillion budget last year,” TPM notes, “that would put funding for the CBP at approximately $178 billion.”

In reality the Corporation for Public Broadcasting receives around $430 million in taxpayer support. That equates to roughly one one-hundredth of one percent of our nation’s budget, or less than $1.50 per capita, per year. (TPM also notes that “Further, 20% of respondents thought CPB funding made up over 10% of the entire budget, including 5% who said it made up at least half.”)

However, this to me was not even the most important fact of the CNN survey. What was perhaps most astounding was that even though the majority of people radically overestimate the budget for NPR and PBS, they still support that funding and many want to see it increased.

In the CNN poll 53% of Americans said funding for public broadcasting should stay the same or increase. While only 16% said it should be eliminated. This should send a strong message to lawmakers who are considering cuts to NPR and PBS funding that would decimate local stations around the country. Even if the budget for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting was as much as 400 times the current budget, the majority of the American public would still support that funding.

The CNN poll illustrated the profound lack of understanding most Americans have about how our government spends taxpayer dollars. At a time when much of commercial media has replaced hard hitting journalism about our financial and government institutions with stock reports and Wall Street gossip, where should Americans look to become better informed?

Perhaps the best response to this survey would be to invest more in the kind of news and journalism that supports democracy and gives the American people the information they need to be self-governing. Public media’s coverage of the economic crisis has been innovative and path-breaking. They do all of this on a shoe-string budget. Imagine what they could do with more.


  1. Josh says:

    Alex Pareene – over at – has a funny post imagining what NPR and PBS could do if their budget was as large as people think it is:

  2. me says:

    Ya, that would be true. Most of the CNN watchers are attathed to each other head to prostate. Or they are watching Jersey shore….so of course they would be clueless of any real information that my or may not affect them. Baaà

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