2023 Penny Poll on Tax Day

Anticipating Tax Day 2023, representatives of the Peace Action Network of Lancaster and 1040 for Peace conducted a Penny Poll on the northwest corner of the square in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, on Saturday, April 15, 2023. 

A Penny Poll gives passers-by 10 pennies and asks them to distribute them according to the federal budget priorities that they would like to support.  Participants look at the options and think about their choices. They may distribute the 10 pennies however they wish among containers marked with 10 different budget categories.

A penny poll engages a wide range of participants in a public place as an interactive tool for good conversation and learning about current U.S. budget priorities and one’s own values.   It reveals how one would like their tax dollars used compared to how those dollars are actually spent by the federal government. 

Eighty-four passers-by participated in Lancaster Square’s Penny Poll.  They indicated that they would like to have their federal taxes spent as follows:

Agriculture – 7%

Diplomacy – 5

Education – 17

Environment (Green Energy) – 14

Health – 18

Housing – 11

Mass Transit/Roads – 5

Military/Homeland Security – 10

Veterans – 11

Other –2

Total – 100%

It is difficult to compare these Penny Poll votes with the actual federal funds’ expenditures since the national budget is not organized according to the Penny Poll categories. The federal funds budget is made up of discretionary spending that Congress appropriates each year. It does not include dedicated funds such as Social Security and Medicare.  In addition, some areas such as Education receive far more funding through local taxes than through the federal budget.

Nevertheless, there are some interesting comparisons.

While the Penny Poll placed military/homeland security spending at 10%, most budget analysts estimate military spending to be 40%-50% of the federal funds budget. (https://www.nationalpriorities.org and https://www.warresisters.org/catalog/federal-budget-pie-charts

Another large discrepancy between Penny Poll voters and the federal budget is in the environment/green energy spending.  Penny Poll voters want 14% of the budget spent in this sector. The actual amount, according to https://www.nationalpriorities.org is 6% (Energy, Environment, and Science).

Penny Poll participants want the federal government to spend 5% of its budget on diplomacy. The actual figure spent on International Affairs, according to https://www.nationalpriorities.org is 3%.