PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans are more likely today than in the recent past to believe that government is taking on too much responsibility for solving the nation's problems and is over-regulating business. New Gallup data show that 57% of Americans say the government is trying to do too many things that should be left to businesses and individuals, and 45% say there is too much government regulation of business. Both reflect the highest such readings in more than a decade.
These two measures are based on questions Gallup has asked each September since 2001, and intermittently before that. The 57% level of public concern about big government in this survey is, among other things, coincident with an extensively increased government involvement in the economy, and the extensive focus on a large-scale government effort to reform healthcare that was underway as this survey was being conducted.
Forty-five percent of Americans say there is too much regulation of business, while 27% say the amount of regulation is about right and 24% say there is too little regulation.
"All of the change in the 'too much regulation' direction came among Republicans and independents. Democrats have remained roughly constant across the past year in their feelings on this issue."
As seen in the accompanying graph, the 45% "too much" reading is the highest of the decade and is higher than the one Gallup reading prior to this decade, in March 1993. However, a March 1981 Los Angeles Times poll using this question wording recorded a 54% "too much" level. This was just after Ronald Reagan took office, and may have reflected Reagan's emphasis during the 1980 presidential campaign on the need to reduce government involvement in American society.
The accompanying table shows shifts in views of government regulation of business by partisan orientation between last year and this year.
All of the change in the "too much regulation" direction came among Republicans and independents. Democrats have remained roughly constant across the past year in their feelings on this issue. In both years, Republicans are the most likely to believe that there is too much regulation of business and industry, while Democrats are the least.
Government Trying to Do Too Much?
There has also been an uptick in the percentage of Americans who believe that the government is trying to do too much that should be left to business and individuals.
Fifty-seven percent of Americans now believe that government is doing too much, slightly higher than the previous high points of the decade (55% in 2001 and 2004) and the highest since a 59% reading in 1998. Concern about too much government has thus returned to a level last measured in the Clinton administration.
Thirty-eight percent of Americans now say government should be doing more to solve the nation's problems.
A plurality of Americans, and often a majority, has tilted toward the "government is trying to do too much" position over the past 17 years. In fact, in Gallup's history of asking this question, only in 1992, 1993, and October 2001 (just weeks after the 9/11 terrorist attacks) did larger percentages of Americans say the "government should do more" than said the government was doing too much.
As was the case with the "government regulation of business" question, there are significant differences in attitudes toward this question by partisan orientation.
Republicans are largely united, tilting by more than 4 to 1 toward the position that the government is doing too much. Independents lean the same way, although not by as large a margin. Democrats, by contrast, say the government should be doing more to solve our country's problems, by about 2 to 1.
Too Much Government Power?
A third question included in Gallup's September survey does not show a change in attitudes toward government power -- unlike the two questions reviewed above. This question asks directly: "Do you think the federal government today has too much power, has about the right amount of power, or has too little power?"
When Gallup first asked this question in September 2002 -- about a year after 9/11 -- a slight majority said the government had about the right amount of power. There was a shift in 2005, however, and from that point to the present, at least half of those interviewed have said the federal government has too much power.
The fact that Americans are more likely now than a year ago to say there is too much regulation of business is notable, given all that has happened over the last 12 months.
The White House has shifted from a Republican to a Democratic administration, and President Obama has pushed aggressive stimulus packages and government involvement in industry and healthcare. The government has spent huge amounts of money investing in two business sectors -- the automobile and banking industries -- under the assumption that large companies in these industries would have failed without government intervention. These actions, and the recognition that some failed businesses, particularly those in the investment banking sector, have previously operated without much government oversight, could in theory have caused an increased appreciation for governmental regulation. That has not occurred.
Instead, the current findings underscore that the average American is less appreciative of increased government control over business during the past year, rather than more so.
Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,026 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Aug. 31-Sept. 2, 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 ±4 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.