PRINCETON, NJ -- While 64% of Republicans say they place more trust in businesses to solve the nation's economic problems, 72% of Democrats say they trust the government more, underscoring the enormous philosophical divide in the way Republicans and Democrats view the government's role in solving the country's economic problems.
The findings from the March 5-8 Gallup Poll show that the sharply differing opinions of Republican versus Democratic elected representatives in Washington reflect the same type of partisan divide among rank-and-file Americans.
The Democratic president and the Democratic-controlled Congress have taken extraordinary actions to fix the economy over the last month or two, presumably under the assumption that government intervention is the only way to pull the country out of the current economic slump. These actions include passing an almost $800 billion stimulus bill and promulgating budget proposals that envision heavy government involvement in tackling a wide variety of economic (and other) problems.
Republicans have protested the massive government actions, and many Republican leaders, along with conservative commentators such as Rush Limbaugh, have not hesitated to argue that the United States is heading down the road to socialism and essentially a government-controlled economy.
Despite the differences by party, the data show that overall, Americans tilt toward the Democratic position -- with a majority saying they trust the government more than businesses to solve the nation's economic problems.
This overall average is driven largely by the fact that there are more Democrats than Republicans in the United States at this point. Because independents are evenly split in their trust in government versus business to solve economic problems, the government approach wins out when the entire U.S. population is aggregated. If there were a national referendum on the desirability of the government taking the lead in solving the nation's economic problems as opposed to letting the capitalist system sort the problems out on its own, it appears that the government option would win.
Two other Gallup questions measuring Americans' views of the role and power of government show roughly the same patterns.
One long-standing Gallup trend question asks whether government is doing too much that should be left to individuals and businesses, or whether the government should do more to solve the country's problems. Democrats are highly likely to say government should do more, while Republicans are even more likely to choose the alternative that government is trying to do too much.
Overall, the sentiment that government is doing too much wins out, but by a narrower margin than was the case in the late summer of 2008. The huge government stimulus bills and other government plans do not appear to have caused any increase in concern that the government is doing too much -- at least not yet.
The Democratic-Republican split in response to this question is quite similar to what was found in Gallup's Sept. 8-11, 2008, poll -- conducted just before Gallup's economic mood indices and other indicators of the public's frame of mind dropped into deeply negative territory. This similarity suggests that whatever has happened in recent months has not in and of itself had a dramatic effect on underlying sentiments among partisan groups.
In similar fashion, the update of a different Gallup trend question in the March 5-8 poll also shows that, compared with last September, there has been no jump in concern that the government has too much power. Republicans and Democrats again have sharply differing views on this issue.
Almost 7 out of 10 Republicans say the federal government has too much power, while just about the same percentage of Democrats say government has either the right amount of power or too little power. Independents tilt toward saying government has too much power.
These data clearly show an enormous partisan divide in the way Americans look at the role of government in society. Republicans are strongly likely to say that they trust business, rather than government, to solve the nation's economic problems; that government is attempting to do too much that should be left to individuals and businesses; and that government has too much power. Democrats hold just the opposite views, while independents are somewhere in the middle.
There is no evidence of any trend toward Americans saying either that government is doing too much that should be left to individuals and businesses, or that government has too much power. If anything, there has been a slight movement in the opposite direction. In short, there is no sign to this point that Americans overall have become more worried that government is gaining too much power or attempting to do too much.
Still, despite the trends, slight pluralities of Americans say that government is trying to do too much and that government has too much power.
Americans appear at this moment to trust government more than business when it comes to the economy specifically, no doubt reflecting the dire straits in which the economy finds itself. But when the economy recovers in the months or years ahead, the data suggest the potential for some sort of backlash or increased objection to an increased governmental role in U.S. society.
Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,012 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted March 5-8, 2009. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.
For results based on the 512 national adults in the Form A half-sample and 500 national adults in the Form B half-sample, the maximum margins of sampling error are ±5 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.