Despite spending more than $610 billion on national defense, Americans are split down to middle on whether the U.S. remains the leading global military power, according to a new Gallup poll.
In the opinion poll released Monday, 49 percent of Americans said they believe the U.S. is the No. 1 military power in the world — the lowest percentage recorded in 23 years, according to Gallup.
Another 49 percent do not see the U.S. as the world's dominant military force, although the poll found that most Americans — 67 percent of those polled — believe global military dominance is important.
Researchers said waning confidence in the nation’s military power may be a result of worries about international terrorism. It is also an election year, when there has been a lot of discussion about the strength and weaknesses of our military.
In nearly every Republican presidential debate, candidates have made defense a central topic of discussion. Some say we are not taking a leadership role in Iraq and Syria, even though the U.S. is leading a growing coalition against ISIS.
Last February, a similar poll found 59 percent of Americans believed the U.S. was the top military power. The decline is in keeping with a 10-year trend: Gallup polls have found that positive public opinion on the topic has been steadily decreasing.
Additionally, 37 percent said the government is spending too little on "national defense and military purposes," a number that peaked in the early 1980s and has increased since 2015.
Numbers laid out by the non-partisan Peter G. Peterson Foundation show the U.S. spends more on defense than the next seven countries behind it. America spent $610 billion last year, while China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, France, United Kingdom, India and Germany reached $601 billion together.
So the power of suggestion appears to be influencing public opinion in a big way when it comes to the military.
Many San Diegans that spoke with NBC 7 San Diego Monday said they believed the U.S. had the most dominant military in the world.
San Diego resident Danna Nicholas said she believes the military forces are the best in the world, and need more support from the government. More support would ensure we keep our top position in the world, she said.
"It does kind of surprise me but its generally in election years I think that people start to focus on where we spend our money and what they want the future to look like," Nicholas said. "So I think maybe people are forward looking and they're thinking that if we continue on a trend of downsizing the military and cutting back on bases and naval stations, we won’t be number one anymore."
Reginald Sidaway, of San Diego, said he believes the U.S. is on top -- at least for now.
"I think at this time its still number one but I don’t think its going to stay that way," he said.
However, in the coming years, he said he believed countries like North Korea and China may overtake the U.S. because of their ambition.
"You’ve got to remember, most people, me included, have no idea how much [weapons] they have," he said.
When the results are broken down by party lines, self-identified Republicans are found to be overwhelmingly in favor of increased defense spending.
Sixty-six percent of Republicans believe the government spends too little on the military and defense, a sharp contrast to Democrats and Independents — 20 and 27 percent, respectively, according to the poll.