No matter how hard I try to be optimistic when I watch the GOP debates, I almost always come away feeling nervous about November 2012. But, then, I come across an encouraging indicator about the general direction in which public opinion has moved since 2008. Low Obama approval. High Obamacare disapproval. Increased numbers of independents, in general — drawn more from Democratic ranks than Republican. And I feel hopeful again.
Today, this Gallup poll served that hope-reviving purpose. As it turns out, whatever the Occupy Wall Street protests seem to signify, a majority of Americans fear big government more than they fear big business. Specifically, 64 percent of Americans say they think big government will be the biggest threat to the country in the future, while just 26 percent name big business as the biggest threat.
That’s not unprecedented or anything: Historically, Americans have always been more apt to be wary of government than business. In fact, in 1999 and 2000, an ever-so-slightly larger percentage of Americans — 65 compared with today’s 64 — said they see big government as a threat.
But what is notable about the recent rise in distrust of big government is that it has been driven by Democrats. Gallup reports:
Almost half of Democrats now say big government is the biggest threat to the nation, more than say so about big business, and far more than were concerned about big government in March 2009. The 32% of Democrats concerned about big government at that time — shortly after President Obama took office — was down significantly from a reading in 2006, when George W. Bush was president.
By contrast, 82% of Republicans and 64% of independents today view big government as the biggest threat, slightly higher percentages than Gallup found in 2009.
Lower percentages of Democrats, Republicans and independents are now concerned about big business than was the case in 2009.
If polls teach us anything, it’s that public opinion is perennially changing, but I still think this demonstrates in some small way the American people’s astute understanding — at a time of 8.6 percent unemployment — that jobs depend on expanding businesses, whereas increased government very often creates perverse incentives that undermine economic growth. And that should have electoral implications.