Record number of Americans believe government has too much power

Yes, it's a ridiculous question. And I don't know whether it's news that 60% of Americans believe government has too much power or 32% think the amount of power in Washington is "about right."

Should we put the 7% who think government doesn't have enough power on a plane out of the country?


These most recent data come from Gallup's Governance survey, conducted Sept. 5-8. The 7% who feel the government has too little power has been mostly steady since Gallup started tracking the measure regularly in 2002.

Republicans and Democrats Divided on Views of Government

This new high encompasses Republicans (81%), who are now more likely than at any time since 2002 to say the government has too much power, and Democrats (38%), who now are more likely to say this than at any time since President Barack Obama took office in 2009.

Republicans, Democrats, and independents have each grown more likely to say government is too powerful this year. However, Republicans' and Democrats' views have generally become more polarized since Obama took office. In 2002, the two parties were about equally likely to view the federal government as too powerful, at 36% and 35%, respectively, with independents, at 45%, most likely to say this.

As the George W. Bush era continued, both Republicans and Democrats began to report higher levels of unease with the amount of power the federal government held. Between 2004 and 2007, the gap between the parties ranged from seven to 17 percentage points, with Democrats more likely than Republicans to say the government had too much power.

During the 2008 presidential race, about half of Republicans and Democrats held this view. By September 2009, however, views became much more polarized: 25% of Democrats were concerned with the government's power, compared with 78% of Republicans. Since that low point, Democrats have become more likely to view the government as too powerful, with 38% this year saying so -- for a gap of 43 points between the parties.

Just kidding about what we should do with the 7%. I would imagine that's just about the number who support the Occupy movement and they've already disappeared into their basement bedroom in their parent's home.

I find it interesting that a growing number of Democrats are concerned about federal power. Not the hard left base, of course. But even in tough economic times, it is significant that the party of government is slowly beginning to realize that government can be part of the problem as well as part of the solution.

Do these numbers bode well for small government Republicans? Hard to say. Americans have shown a tendency to look at big government in the abstract. Yes, government is too big unless you want to take away my goodies. Democrats have played on this notion since the Reagan years, scaremongering seniors about social security, poor people about the safety net, and now the middle class about their entitlements. It's very effective politics, as we have seen, but can be overcome with a clear and forceful message delivered by principled politicians.

We await with interest such a politician to emerge.

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