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Support for Active Government Up in U.S.

Support for Active Government Up in U.S.

Story Highlights

  • Public support for activist government now 45%, highest since 2001
  • Nearly four in 10 favor a government highly active in improving citizens' lives
  • Partisan views have been fairly consistent across administrations

This story is part of a series focusing on Americans' confidence in various types of government, views of the political parties and of the role and power of government. Follow the series on our government topic page.

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Half of Americans believe the government is doing too much that should be left to individuals and businesses in the U.S. Meanwhile, 45% -- up from 41% in 2016 and an average of 39% during the eight years of Barack Obama's presidency -- want government to take a greater role in solving the country's problems.

Trend: Americans' Preferences for Role of Government

Gallup has asked this question 43 times since 1992, and in the vast majority of those cases, Americans have tilted toward believing that government is doing too much. The percentage of Americans who want the government to do more has risen to 45% or higher only five times. These were in 1992 and 1993 as the country was focused on repairing the economy after the 1990-1991 recession; in October 2001, a month after the 9/11 attacks; and again today.

The uptick this year in the percentage who want government to be more active comes from slight increases in support for this from Republicans and independents; Democrats' preference for this dipped slightly. Still, consistent with their party's core philosophy, 74% of Republicans currently think government is doing too much that should be left to individuals and businesses; just 22% want it to do more. In contrast, 67% of Democrats think government should be doing more to solve the country's problems, while 26% say more should be left to the private sector.

Americans' Preferences for Role of Government in 2017
Some people think the government is trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses. Others think that government should do more to solve our country's problems. Which comes closer to your own view?
Government doing too much Government should do more No opinion
% % %
U.S. adults 50 45 5
Gender
Men 51 43 6
Women 48 47 4
Age
18 to 34 41 55 4
35 to 54 53 41 5
55+ 53 41 6
Party ID
Republican 74 22 5
Independent 50 46 5
Democrat 26 67 7
Gallup, Sept. 6-10. 2017

Republicans are a bit more likely to want an activist government today, under President Donald Trump, than they were when Obama was president. At the same time, they are not quite as supportive as they were during most of George W. Bush's tenure, when up to 28% favored this. Democrats' views are about the same today as they were during Obama's presidency, but they are more supportive of an active government now than they were during the Bush years.

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Four in 10 Favor a Highly Active Government

A separate question in the poll asked Americans to rate their views about the role of government on a 5-point scale, where "1" means they think the government should do only those things necessary to provide the most basic government functions and "5" means government should take active steps in every area it can to improve citizens' lives.

A record 38% of Americans now rate themselves a "4" or "5" on the scale, meaning they want or lean toward having an activist government, while 30% rate themselves a "1" or "2," meaning they want or lean toward having a bare-bones government. Another 31% take the moderate "3" position.

By contrast, in each year from 2010 through 2016, Gallup found the public more evenly split in its leanings toward these two philosophies about government -- providing less of a push for government action.

Trend: Americans' Views on Purposes of Government

On this question, 61% of Democrats vs. 18% of Republicans think the government should be highly active (rating themselves a 4 or 5), whereas 47% of Republicans vs. 11% of Democrats think the government should focus only on basic functions (a self-rating of 1 or 2). Independents are closely split, with 36% leaning toward active steps and 32% toward basic functions.

Again, these views have not changed markedly by party along with the latest change in presidents. During the Obama administration, most Democrats advocated for activist government, while Republicans tended to favor more limited government. This year's increase in overall support for government taking active steps is largely owing to more independents espousing this, now 36% -- up from 27% in 2016.

Implications

Americans' support of an activist government is relatively high today in the context of public opinion over the past quarter century. The 45% now wanting the government to do more to solve the country's problems is among the highest recorded on this question since 1992. Similarly, the 38% opting for government to do everything it can to help citizens lead better lives, a somewhat higher bar, is the highest Gallup has seen since it first asked this in 2010.

Still, these are minority views, meaning that Americans aren't clamoring for big government; but perhaps, given public frustration with years of gridlock in Washington, they are a bit more willing to see their government working toward solutions.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Sept. 6-10, 2017, with a random sample of 1,022 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 70% cellphone respondents and 30% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

View survey methodology, complete question responses and trends.

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.

Gallup


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