Should government intervene to improve the economy, and if so, by what means?  Three years ago, a Rasmussen poll showed that almost two-thirds of respondents worried that the government would try to do too much in response to the unfolding economic collapse.  Now a bare majority worries that government hasn’t done enough — but that’s not a signal that voters want another round of neo-Keynesian intervention.  They would prefer that government start reducing its size and its tax haul:

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that 42% of Likely U.S. Voters worry more that the federal government will do too much rather than not enough in reacting to the nation’s economic problems. But even more (50%) worry that the government will not do enough.

Those figures reflect quite a change from the immediate aftermath of the financial industry meltdown in September 2008. At that time, 63% of voters worried more that the government would do too much. In recent months, a plurality has expressed a fear that the government will do too little in response to the economic troubles gripping the nation. Earlier this month, for the first time ever, the number worried that the government would do too little reached 50%, a level matched in the most recent survey.

As a result of the growing concern that the government will not do enough, Rasmussen Reports explored the type of action that voters were looking for the government to take. Among all voters, 77% want the government to cut deficits, 71% think the government should cut spending, and 59% want the government to cut taxes. This is consistent with long held voter views that cutting spending and taxes is good for the economy.

The majority of interventionists want to see action on the spending side of the ledger:

Among voters who worry that the government will not do enough, 52% favor cutting government spending, and 64% favor deficit reduction. Those who want the government to do more are fairly evenly divided between those who want tax cuts and those who want tax hikes. Even among those who want the government to do more to help the economy, only 31% want to see an increase in government spending.

“These figures suggest that most Americans consider the government’s current policies as an obstacle to economic growth,” explains Scott Rasmussen, president of Rasmussen Reports. “As the economic weakness continues, a growing number Americans are hoping the nation’s politicians will do more to help the economy by reducing the burdens and restraints that government places on economic growth.”

That’s good news at the meta level.  I’d like to see Rasmussen dig into the details of spending reductions, however, to see where these same people will accept specific cuts.  The problem, as Allahpundit often points out in these polls, is that spending cuts poll well in the abstract, but specific cuts poll very, very badly.  Even in entitlement programs, which represent the single greatest fiscal threat this country faces, few people will support specific and actual reductions.  Paul Ryan got pilloried for trying to push seniors off of a financial cliff with his reform of Medicare and the overall budget — and Ryan doesn’t cut current spending in that proposal.  He just makes rather significant cuts in the projection of future spending, which is the limit of political reality these days.  The cuts needed to reduce actual spending would seem so dramatic that it’s questionable whether they would get significant political support from voters at all.

The good news, though, is that 77% of voters oppose increasing the deficit, and opposition to higher taxes runs 2-1, 59/27.  Spending cuts are favored over spending increases by more than two-thirds, 71/18.  The demographics of that question show a broad consensus.  Majorities of both genders and all age and income groups widely favor cuts over increases.  Even a plurality of Democrats agree, 47/33, a majority of black voters at 50/30, and another plurality for self-described liberals at 46/37.  This shows that spending increases — presumably including new stimulus spending, although the question isn’t specific to that idea — have very little support even in Barack Obama’s core constituencies.

The only demographic that favors higher spending over spending cuts?  The political class, at 53%.

Conservatives are winning the larger, conceptual argument.  In order to put this into action, they need to start winning the specific arguments, and Paul Ryan is at least succeeding a little, drawing Ron Wyden into a new version of his budget plan and giving a bipartisan platform for sharp reductions in the rate of growth, at least.  That’s a very good start, but we need to spread this consensus further and deeper.