PRINCETON, NJ -- Less than one quarter of Americans (22%) say there is too little government regulation of business and industry, while about half (49%) say there is too much regulation. An additional 27% say the level of regulation is about right. These attitudes have been consistent over the past five years. Prior to that, the percentage who said there was too much regulation rose between 2008 and 2010.
The latest data are from Gallup's annual Governance survey, conducted Sept. 4-7. The Governance poll this year shows general declines in Americans' trust in all three branches of government, and a dip in Americans' trust in the federal government to handle domestic and international problems.
Gallup has been tracking attitudes toward government regulation of business annually since 2001. The low point in the perception that there was too much regulation came in 2002, the year after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. This reflected a "rally effect," in which Americans became more positive about all aspects of government, including record-high job approval ratings of the president and Congress. In fact, the only times that a higher percentage of Americans said there was too little rather than too much government regulation of business were in February and June 2002, the first two times Gallup asked this question after 9/11.
From 2003 through the remainder of the George W. Bush administration, however, these attitudes settled into a pattern in which Americans were more likely to say there was too much rather than too little government regulation of business. After Barack Obama took office in 2009, the percentage saying "too much" regulation rose into the high 40s, including a reading of 50% in 2011, and has remained at these relatively high levels since.
Less than a quarter of Americans have perceived in the last two years that there is too little government regulation of business and industry, while slightly more have said regulation is about right.
Partisan Gap in Views of Regulation Wider Than Before Obama Took Office
As is the case with most attitudes about government and government use of power, Republicans and Democrats have sharply differing views on government regulation of business. About three-quarters of Republicans (76%) say there is too much regulation, compared with less than one-quarter (22%) of Democrats.
The rise in the overall percentage of Americans who say there is too much regulation of business is driven in large part by Republicans' views in the years since Obama took office. The percentage of Republicans saying "too much" rose from the 40% to 50% range under Bush to as high as 84% in 2011, then dropping to the current 76%. Democrats' views have been much more stable across the Bush and Obama administrations to date, but are, on average, slightly lower under Obama than under Bush, 23% vs. 28%, respectively.
Given that these trends stretch back to 2001 and there are data for only one Republican and one Democratic presidential administration, it is not clear whether Republicans' shift toward "too much" regulation is unique to their views of regulations under the Obama administration, or would be apparent for Republicans under any Democratic president.
The majority of Democrats who don't think there is too much regulation are split between the "about right" (35%) and "too little" responses (39%).
A number of Americans view the federal government negatively, and it's likely that for many in this group, their negative perceptions of government regulation of business at least partially reflect their doubts that government's getting more involved in such endeavors would produce positive outcomes.
Americans' interest in having more government regulation of business and industry did not increase after the recession began in 2008, even though that economic meltdown was caused in large part by mortgage companies and banks engaging in what turned out to be disastrous mortgage lending and mortgage buying and selling practices. Government did step in during the recession under both Presidents Bush and Obama, taking a number of extraordinary actions that many have credited as helping stave off even worse consequences for the banking industry, the housing industry, the automotive industry, and the economy more broadly.
The Dodd-Frank bill was passed by Congress and signed into law by the president in July 2010, largely in response to the recession, and was one of the most far-reaching financial regulatory pieces of legislation in U.S. history. Yet, even as these actions were taken and this legislation passed, Americans didn't become more likely to say the amount of government regulation was about right, but instead increasingly said there was too much regulation. This may have reflected Republicans' views that Dodd-Frank and other actions went too far, or it could have been a more general reaction to having a Democrat in the White House. Whatever the reason, it is clear that the financial upheaval caused by the recession did not result and has not resulted in a significant jump in the number of Americans who say there is too little government regulation of business.
Gallup recently found a record-high percentage of Americans saying "big government" is a greater threat to the U.S. than big business or big labor. Thus, even though Americans don't have a great deal of confidence in "big business" as an institution, they have even less in big government, and express little desire for the latter to become more involved in regulating the former.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Sept. 4-7, 2014, with a random sample of 1,017 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.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.
Samples are weighted to correct for unequal selection probability, nonresponse, and double coverage of landline and cell users in the two sampling frames. They are also weighted to match the national demographics of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, population density, and phone status (cellphone only/landline only/both, and cellphone mostly). Demographic weighting targets are based on the most recent Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population. Phone status targets are based on the most recent National Health Interview Survey. Population density targets are based on the most recent U.S. census. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.
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.
For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.