Public opinion may not be the best indicator of sound economic policies, but it can shape and constrain political discussion – certainly discussion about the farm bill, says an Oklahoma State University economist.
Jayson Lusk, Regents Professor and Willard Sparks Endowed Chair in the Department of Agricultural Economics at OSU, recently prepared a report looking specifically at how Americans view hot-button nutrition issues, like: Should nutrition programs be split from the farm bill? Should food stamp recipients be required to look for work?
In light of recent disagreements between House and Senate on the size of cuts to nutrition programs (nearly $40 billion in the House, $4 billion in the Senate), public opinion on the issue may be more important than ever, he suggests.
For example, Lusk points out that almost three quarters of respondents supported the House's July decision to decouple the farm bill, voting on farm and food provisions separately. Meanwhile, just 39% of respondents supported cutting food stamps by almost $40 billion.
Lusk's findings were prepared using the University's month Food Demand Survey. More than 1,000 responses weighted to be demographically representative of the U.S. population were used to form the final numbers.
The question read:
Both Houses of the U.S. Congress are considering changes to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), otherwise known as the "food stamp" program, in the latest version of the farm bill. Do you support or oppose each of the following proposed changes to the food stamp program? (For reference, current versions of the farm bill are projected to cost about $950 billion over ten years, with about 80% being spent on food stamp and nutritional programs; over 47 million people (or 15% of Americans) are today on food stamps, an 80% increase since 2007; average benefits are $133/person/month.)
Then, eleven issues were listed in random order. For each issue, respondents indicated "support" or "oppose."
Lusk said implications of the survey confirm that there are uncertainties in the future of farm policy. However, the results also provide some insights into what policies will be most popular in public opinion.
"While the House decision to decouple farm programs from SNAP may ultimately cause a break down in the urban-rural political coalition that has held together the farm bill for decades, it is a move that the vast majority of Americans support," Lusk said.
Source: University of Illinois FarmDoc