Americans Support Increases in Government Arts Funding

Posted by Mr. Randy Cohen, Mar 05, 2016 0 comments

This is the second of four blog posts on Americans for the Arts’ new public opinion survey.

In December 2015, Congress increased the appropriation to the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) from $146 million to $148 million. That was certainly good news to arts advocates, but was that per capita increase of less than one cent (to $0.46 per capita in 2016) in line with the public’s will—too little, too much? That same month, Americans for the Arts put the question of the government’s role in arts funding to the American public with the following results:

  • Americans support increasing federal arts funding: When asked about increasing federal government grants to arts organizations from a per capita rate of 45 cents up to $1—effectively doubling the NEA budget—more than half of Americans support the move (54 percent). Likely voters are significantly more likely to support this increase than unlikely voters (56 percent vs. 34 percent).
  • State and local government arts funding has high approval ratings: Twice as many Americans approve of their state and local governments awarding grants to artists and arts organizations than disapprove: local government (57 percent vs. 25 percent); state government (55 percent vs. 27 percent).
  • Community-oriented arts funding has high public value: When presented with specific types of arts funding opportunities, public support skyrockets. Respondents are especially likely to favor government arts funding for art in parks and public spaces (71 percent) and to aid returning military personnel in their transition to civilian life (69 percent). Sixty-eight percent favor using the arts to beautify blighted areas, create programs for the elderly, and promote pro-social behavior with at-risk youth.
  • Federal candidates can feel safe voting to increase support for the arts: This study sends a positive message from the public to their elected officials: “We will support you at the polls when you fund the arts.” All else being equal, American’s who are likely to vote in the 2016 presidential election are most likely to vote in favor (38 percent) than to vote against (19 percent) a candidate who wanted to increase federal spending on the arts to $1 per capita. Millennials are especially likely to vote in favor of this increase—(47 percent) vs. 13 percent who oppose it.

By a Margin of 2:1, Americans Approve of Government Arts Funding

Government funding is a vital revenue stream to nonprofit arts organizations, representing about 10 percent of organizational income. Because these are public dollars, it is appropriate for government and community leaders to understand how this investment is valued by the community. We began with local and state government funding, and asked all 3,020 survey respondents the following:

“Do you approve or disapprove of your local and state governments funding grants to artists and arts organizations?”

Local and state governments providing grants to artists and arts organizations has a high level of support by the American public. In fact, more than twice as many approve than disapprove of the public sector’s role in arts funding: local government (57 percent vs. 25 percent); state government (55 percent vs. 27 percent).

  • “Likely voters” were significantly more likely than “unlikely voters” to approve both local (60 percent vs. 45 percent) and state funding (58 percent vs. 41 percent).
  • Those under the age of 55, or have children living at home, or have a college degree are significantly more likely to approve of local and state arts funding.

Arts funding for specific purposes has high public value

The NEA, state arts agencies, and local arts agencies all work to engage their communities in the arts not only at “traditional” arts venues (e.g., museums, theaters), but also in what might be considered “non-traditional” spaces (e.g., hospitals, parks, airports, and social service organizations). We wanted to know if the public’s support of government arts funding varied when asked about these very specific purposes, rather than the previous “general arts support” question.

“Do you favor or oppose the government funding the arts for the following purposes?”

These responses certainly suggest that when the public has a better understanding of what government arts funding might really look like, their level of support rises.

  • American adults are especially likely to favor government arts funding for art in parks and public spaces (71 percent), and to aid returning military personnel in their transition to civilian life (69 percent). Sixty-eight percent favor using the arts to beautify blighted areas, create programs for the elderly, and promote pro-social behavior with at-risk youth.
  • 46 percent support grants to individual artists; this was opposed by just 30 percent.
  • Likely voters are significantly more likely to oppose “funding individual artists to make art” than unlikely voters (34 percent vs. 22 percent). One for the irony column—younger respondents are more supportive of arts programs for the elderly than older respondents.

Americans Think Current Federal Spending on Arts Organizations is Not Enough

Most Americans are unware that the $146 million Congressional appropriation to the National Endowment for the Arts (FY 2015) weighs in at a mere 45 cents person. $146 million sounds like a lot of money to most of us, but put that ‘quarter-plus-two-dimes’ in the context of what the federal government collects in revenue every year—about $4,400 per person—and it might sound different. That’s addressed in the next question:

“The federal government collects about $4400 per person in revenue every year. Currently, it spends about 45 cents per person on grants to arts organizations (such as museums, theaters, and community arts centers). In your opinion, is this…”

Only a quarter believe that current government funding is just right (26 percent), while two in five (43 percent) say that 45 cents per capita is an inadequate amount spent on grants to arts organizations by the federal government.

  • In fact, the 43 percent who responded “not enough” are more than the combined responses of those who felt it was “too much” and “just right” (13 percent and 26 percent, respectively—totaling 39 percent).
  • Likely voters are significantly more likely to respond “not enough” than unlikely voters (48 percent vs. 36 percent).
  • Those most likely to respond “not enough” include women (52 percent), the less affluent (48 percent), and those without children living at home (45 percent).

 

A Majority of Americans Approve Increasing Federal Arts Grants to $1 Per Capita

The previous question indicated that 45 cents per capita was not enough spending on grants to arts organizations. This question is the logical follow-up: Should we spend more? We picked $1 per capita as that is the target of the Americans for the Arts Action Fund.

“Do you approve or disapprove of the federal government increasing spending from 45 cents to $1 per person on grants to arts organizations?”

A clear majority (54 percent) support an increase from 45 cents to $1 per person (effectively doubling the NEA budget). Twenty-seven percent of American adults “strongly approve” of this increase—a share larger than the entire “disapprove” category.

  • Likely voters are significantly more likely to approve than unlikely voters (56 percent vs. 34 percent).
  • Those who approve to a level of statistical significance include those under 35 years of age (66 percent), those with children living at home (66 percent), and individuals with a college education (59 percent).

 

Opinions are Mixed on How to Pay for Increases in Arts Funding

Contingent valuation questions, such as the previous one, are always tricky as respondents are asked about a financial change that has no immediate consequence to them (i.e., it’s a survey, not their actual bank account). However, we did want respondents to at least consider what changes would need to be made to account for the increase in arts funding.

“Thinking again about funding for the arts and priorities for yourself and your community, which of the statements below comes closest to your opinion?”

The responses to this question offer less certainty when compared to the previous ones, with the top four responses effectively equal.

  • 17 percent would pay more in annual taxes to fund the arts, 18 percent think we should fund the arts by cutting from other areas of the budget, and 19 percent want to pay less in taxes and pull from other areas of the budget to maintain arts funding.
  • 13 percent would cut taxes and cut arts funding.
  • Likely voters were significantly more likely “to pay a little bit more in annual taxes to fund the arts” than unlikely voters (20 percent vs. 7 percent).

 

Opinions are Mixed on How to Pay for an Increase

Thirty-seven percent of the respondents (1,131 of the 3,020) to the previous question said they would cut spending from another part of the federal budget. We asked just this sub-group where they would make the cuts.

“You said you'd like to cut spending from elsewhere in the budget to fund the arts. Where do you think we should cut from in order to spend on the arts?”

  • Among those who said that they would ideally cut spending from other areas of the budget in order to fund the arts, military funding is the most common candidate, selected by 29 percent. Another one in five say that funds for the arts should come from environment and energy sectors, while one-in-ten would have cuts made to healthcare in order to supplement the arts.
  • Education and social security are least likely to be targeted when seeking additional funds among those who would cut spending from other areas of the budget in order to fund the arts, while a quarter don’t know what areas of the budget should be cut in order to make room for additional arts spending.
  • Men were statistically more likely than women to suggest cutting from the military (33 percent vs. 27 percent). Millennials (born 1981 and after) and Gen Xers (born 1965 to 1980) are more likely to suggest cuts in military spending than Baby Boomers (born 1947 to 1964) and Elders (born before 1946).

 

Political candidates running for federal office are safe voting for the arts

Those running for office endeavor to keep their fingers on the pulse of their electorate—balancing the will of their constituents with the good of the nation. Elected officials want to know how their votes will affect what happens at the ballot box on Election Day. We asked all 3,020 survey respondents whether a candidates vote to increase arts funding would affect their vote.

 

“All else being equal, would you vote for or against a political candidate who wanted to increase federal spending on the arts from 45 cents per person to $1 per person?”

  • Thirty-six percent will vote FOR the candidate who makes the increase. Just 17 percent said they would vote against a candidate because of a vote to increase arts funding.
  • One-third of the respondents (35 percent) say this part of the campaign would not impact their vote.
  • “Likely voters” were significantly more likely to vote FOR a candidate than “unlikely voters” (38 percent vs. 22 percent).

As of December 2015, public support for government arts funding at the federal, state, and local levels is high. More than half of Americans are willing to increase government arts funding, and when asked about very specific arts programs—such as art in public spaces or to help returning military personnel—public support skyrockets to the 70 percent range. American voters want their government involved in arts support, and in fact they want more of it. The public also makes clear those running for federal elected office, we will support you at the polls if you deliver on the arts.

This is from the first release of Americans for the Arts’ new survey on the public opinion of the arts. The purpose of the survey was to gauge the public’s personal engagement in the arts, their support for arts education and government arts funding, the personal benefits and well-being that comes from engaging in the arts, and if/how those benefits extend more broadly to the community. The survey was conducted in December 2015 by Ipsos Public Affairs, the third largest survey research firm in the world. To add precision to the findings, a large sample size of 3,020 adults were surveyed, online (by way of comparison, the typical national presidential poll has a sample size of just 1,000 adults). The poll has a credibility interval of plus/minus 2 percentage points.

 

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