Federal Government Spending as share of GDP

AP US Government and Politics

What portion of the GDP did the federal government spend in 2016?

Pew Research Center

AP US Government and Politics

  1. How accurate was your silly prediction?

  2. Would you be embarrassed to share your prediction with your most special friend?

  3. How surprised are you by the overall portion of the GDP that the federal government spends?

  4. You do know what GDP means, don’t you?

  5. Spending by what other levels of government are not included in this chart?

  6. How do you think this spending level compares to other advanced post-industrial countries like Switzerland, Japan, or New Zealand?

  7. What are two trends in spending you see in the chart?

  8. Explain the cause of one of those trends.

  9. What is a consequence of one of these trends?

  10. Based on the trends in the chart, what portion of GDP do you think the US government will be spending by 2028?

  11. How familiar are most Americans with the data from this chart?

  12. Currently, what is the biggest single expenditure from the US government?

  13. Why do you think that is?

  14. Donald Trump, in his budget outline, has proposed increases in defense spending (very light blue section of chart) and decreases in "other" spending (darkest blue section of chart) for things like the NEA, NASA, and the CPB. Do you support that idea?

  15. If you had to cut any one area of spending in this chart, explain which area it would be.

  16. Which areas in this chart are entitlement or mandatory spending, and cannot be simply cut by a new budget?

  17. Overall, is this chart good or bad news?

  18. What would the framers of the Constitution think about this chart, besides “what the heck is a social security?”

  19. Former Treasury official Peter Fisher once said, the federal government is basically “a gigantic insurance company,” albeit one with “a sideline business in national defense and homeland security.” Based on the data from the chart, does Fisher's assessment seem correct?

Learning Extension

Read this swell new Pew Report putting federal spending in perspective.

Action Extension

Contact the POTUS, or if you're not at Mar-a-Lago, go to his website to share your opinion of US federal spending and what he should do about it!

Visual Extension (at absolutely no additional cost to the federal government)!!!


Aw, that's adorable.

Our World In Data Extension

Our Animals in Clothes Extension

Money in the Tank

Do most Americans think that the amount of money the U.S. spends on defense is too much, too little, or just about right?

  1. How accurate was your prediction?

  2. Identify one trend from the chart.

  3. Explain the cause of that trend.

  4. What is one consequence of that trend?

  5. If most Americans believe that we spend too much money on Defense, why did Donald Trump just request a nearly 5% increase in U.S. defense spending?

  6. How much money did Donald Trump request for the 2019 defense budget?*

  7. How do you think that compares to what the average American thinks the U.S. spends on the military?

  8. How much do you think partisanship impacts opinion about defense spending? (see below)

  9. Explain your opinion about the appropriate level of American defense spending.

  10. Describe the parts of the government that are involved in setting defense spending budgets.

  11. What does Article II of the U.S. Constitution say about the president’s military role?

  12. What does Article I of the U.S. Constitution say about the role of the Congress in defense?

  13. Explain whether a Federalist or an Anti-Federalist would be more likely to support a strong federal military.

  14. Explain what position the following ideologies would most likely take regarding the 2019 military budget proposal:

  • Socialist

  • Liberal

  • Conservative

  • Libertarian

*$727 billion

Visual Extension

Learning Extension

Read the Gallup report on Americans’ views on defense spending.

Action Extension

Contact your member of congress and let them know what you think about our nation’s current level of defense spending?

Our World In Data Extension

Our Animals in Clothes Extension


Our Totally Random Chart that doesn’t really fit Anywhere Extension

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Changes in Spending

AP US Government & Politics

By 2040, what portion of U.S. Federal budget spending will be discretionary

  1. How accurate was your prediction?

  2. What is the difference between mandatory and discretionary spending?

  3. List two examples of mandatory spending:

  4. List two examples of discretionary spending:

  5. What story do these charts tell?

  6. What is one reason for the changing nature of U.S. federal spending?

  7. What are two consequences of the changing nature of U.S. federal spending?

  8. As discretionary spending gets squeezed, what are some specific discretionary U.S. government programs that you think might get cut?

  9. Describe the general trend in overall (discretionary + mandatory)U.S. government spending?

  10. What specific parts of the government play a major role in creating the budget?

  11. Describe the U.S. Government’s budgetary process.

  12. Let's say that you felt the government was spending too much money on mandatory spending. Is there anything the federal government could do about this?

  13. Overall, is this good news or bad?

  14. Why doesn't the U.S. save money and just stop paying the interest on the debt?

  15. What questions do you have about all this?

  16. In the comments section below, list one program or expenditure that you wouldn't mind seeing cut from the US federal budget.

Visual Extension


Learning Extension

Learn more about the changes in discretionary spending at the Peter G. Peterson Foundation.

Action Extension

Plug in your family information to the tax receipt calculator to see where the federal government spent your family's taxes.

Our World In Data Extension

Our Animals in Clothes Extension

Hey Big Military Spender

What percent of the world's military spending belongs to the United States?

  1. How accurate was your prediction?

  2. What most surprised you about this data?

  3. What is the big story this chart tells about U.S. military spending?

  4. Is that a good thing/Happy Story?

  5. Why do you think we spend so much on the military?

  6. What is one consequence of America's military budget?

  7. Based on the data in the chart, How many of the top military spending nations are our allies?

  8. What question would you like answered about the chart?

  9. Imagine that you were the head of the Office of Management and Budget, (You down with OMB?) responsible for formulating the President’s overall budget. What information that is NOT provided in the chart would you like to know to help you make better budgeting decisions?

  10. Military spending has increased under POTUS Trump. Explain the connection between the base of POTUS Trump's electoral coalition and this increase in military spending.

  11. What branches of government are involved in setting the budget?

  12. What specific departments, agencies, and offices in the US government would be involved in making recommendations on military spending.

  13. Imagine a scenario in which POTUS Trump decides to slash military spending by 10%. Describe the methods that pro-military interest groups could use to try to counter his decision.

  14. According to the U.S. Constitution What specific military powers does the POTUS have?

  15. When you look at military spending as a portion of GDP how does the US compare to other countries?

  16. When you look at projected Military spending (below*), what conclusions can you draw about America's future role as world superpower?

  17. How likely is it that the United States will use its military might against Venezuela?

Visual Extension*

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Learning Extension

Check out this wicked cool global military data from data daddy himself, Max Roser. ANd check out his interactive military spending chart below.

Action Extension.

Think about how you could best influence American budget priorities and spending and then check out this ACTION page from the National Priorities Project. Whatever your opinion is regarding military spending, share your idea of the most efficacious way to influence American military spending in class and online.

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 Really Random extension

Stop being so defensive in your spending

What portion of GDP does the US spend on defense?

*GDP = Use our  GoPo Glossary  to define your terms.

*GDP = Use our GoPo Glossary to define your terms.

  1. How accurate was your prediction

  2. Describe a defense spending trend you see in the data.

  3. Why do you think that is?

  4. What is a consequence of the overall trend in defense spending?

  5. What is your opinion of this level of U.S. defense spending?

  6. How do you think that POTUS Trump will impact this trend of military spending?*

  7. Write in the names of all the past presidents during the time period of the chart. List the party of each president. Does one party tend to spend more than the other on defense?

  8. What do you think this chart will look like over the next twenty years?

  9. What trend in defense spending do you think is happening in China?

  10. Why do the crazy British call it defence instead of defense, what else do they misspell, and when do you think they'll ever learn?

  11. How long have we been at war in Afghanistan?

  12. How do you think this defense spending compares to other areas of spending in the U.S. budget?*

  13. What tends to happen to the level of defense spending during wartime?

  14. When on this chart have we NOT been at war?

  15. How do you think our defense spending compares to that of other countries?*

  16. Who decides on military spending levels for the U.S.?

  17. In what ways would a typical liberal and conservative differ on their views of military spending?

  18. Is the amount of money the U.S. spends on the military a big issue in the midterm elections?

Bonus Visuals*


Learning Extension

Read this Heritage Foundation article about the portion of GDP the US spends on the military.

Action Extension

Contact the POTUS and tell him what you think about current U.S. military spending levels.