Gallup provides a good news/bad news scenario in its poll of the day. The good news is that a majority of Americans think government tries to do too much and that more should be left to the private sector. The bad news? The gap has sharply declined recently, and is now at roughly the same level as in the 2008 election:
A majority of Americans (54%) continue to believe the government is trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses, although that is down from the record high of 61% earlier this summer. About four in 10 Americans (39%) say the government should do more to solve the nation’s problems.
Only a few times in Gallup’s 20-year history of asking this question has a higher percentage of Americans said the government should do more to solve the nation’s problems than said the government is doing too much. Two of these were in the fall of 1992 and again in early 1993, as Bill Clinton ran for and took office as president. Another was in October 2001, just after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and at a time when Americans were especially supportive of government and its efforts to help the nation recover from the attacks and retaliate against those who were responsible.
Americans have been most likely to say the government was attempting to do too much during the middle years of the Clinton administration, and in recent years during the Obama administration.
Here’s the graph, which shows the relative position of today’s result to the historical track:
Similarly, the poll shows a decline in the number of people who think the federal government has too much power. It’s still a majority and a solid 11-point gap at 51/40 — which is virtually identical to 2008’s 52/40. Even after the bailouts that took place after that poll result, that dropped to 50/42 in early 2009 before peaking at 59/33 for the 2010 midterms.
The partisan tracks are depressingly predictable — when one considers who was President, and when. From 2003-8, more Democrats thought the federal government had too much power, peaking at 57% in 2006-7. Republicans generally didn’t, only getting above 41% in late 2007 and into a majority in 2008. Ever since Obama’s election, the Republican response has been in the 70s, while the highest Democratic response has been 32% over the last four years.
Whither the independents, then? Gallup doesn’t provide any historical data on this demographic, but today’s result is at least somewhat salutary. Independents are far more likely to object to the amount of intervention conducted by the federal government, 62/29, far outstripping the electorate as a whole. Only 24% of Democrats now agree, while Republicans now hit 82%. The distrust of federal power still looks like a potent force in American politics, thankfully.