That’s not unheard of, according to Pew, but it’s awfully rare over the last 40 years polling. And it doesn’t seem to be a fluke result in light of yesterday’s NBC poll. That survey found 57 percent saying that government should do more to solve problems and meet the needs of Americans, a 20-year high. Pew asked a different question along the same lines: Do you prefer a bigger government that offers more services or a smaller one that offers fewer services? Result: 48/45. The last time that metric was evenly split was 2008.
Pew drilled down and asked people which services specifically they’d like to see the government spend more money on. Veterans’ benefits? Hell yes. Scientific research? You betcha. Defense? Yep yep yeppers. Among 14 different categories of spending tested, only two — assistance to needy people abroad and the State Department(!) — had more people saying the feds should decrease spending rather than increase it, and the margins in both cases were small. Pluralities or outright majorities favored increasing spending in the other 12. In none of the 14 tested did “decrease spending” attract anything close to an outright majority. As depressing as that is for fiscal conservatives, there’s nothing unusual about it. When Pew ran this same sort of poll four years ago, the results were similar. The difference between now and then is that Americans at least aren’t pretending that they favor smaller government while they’re calling for Congress to throw more money at every problem under the sun.
Actually, there’s something else that’s different too — the trendlines. Check this out.
In every spending category offered (yes, even the forlorn State Department), a greater share of Americans support increased spending now than supported it in 2013. Partly that may be due to a better economy, with people more willing to spend as they feel more secure about growth, but I’m sure it’s also partly due to Republicans getting more comfortable with federal spending under Trump. Case in point: In 2013, just 28 percent of GOPers supported increased spending on roads and infrastructure versus 21 percent who wanted less spending on those things. Today the share of Republicans who support increased spending has nearly doubled to 55 percent, just six points behind Democrats. Leadership matters.