- 54% believe federal government is too powerful, similar to past years
- 53% say government doing too many things to solve nation's problems
- Twice as many say there is too much rather than too little business regulation
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A 54% majority of Americans say the federal government has too much power, while 39% say it has about the right amount of power and 6% say too little. These figures have generally been stable throughout the Donald Trump and Joe Biden presidential administrations. Since 2005, no less than 50% of Americans have said they believe the federal government is too powerful, with some of those readings reaching 60%.
These results are based on Gallup's annual Governance survey, conducted Sept. 1-16.
Americans have typically believed the federal government has too much power, except in the first three years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Between 2002 and 2004, about half of Americans said the government had the right amount of power, while close to 40% said it had too much.
At no point in Gallup's trend have more than 9% of U.S. adults said the government has too little power.
The stability in the overall numbers masks large shifts by Republicans and Democrats tied to the party of the sitting president. Generally speaking, Republicans and Democrats are more inclined to say the government has too much power when the president is from the other party, and less inclined when a president from their own party is in the White House. But since 2009, Republicans have been consistently more likely than Democrats to say the government is too powerful, just by larger margins under a Democratic president than under a Republican president.
Currently, 74% of Republicans, 32% of Democrats and 54% of independents believe the federal government has too much power.
Slim Majority Believes Federal Government Is Too Active
When asked how active the government should be in addressing the nation's problems, 53% say it is doing too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses, while 43% believe the government should be doing more to solve problems.
These attitudes are similar to a year ago and have largely held over the past two decades, although with some variation, depending on the party of the president at the time. Typically, as now, Americans have been more likely to see the government as too active when a Democratic president is in office than when a Republican is.
Gallup first asked the question about government activity in 1992. The highest percentages saying the government is doing too much are 61% measured in July 2012 and 60% in December 1995.
There have been only three instances since 1992 in which more Americans have called for the government to do more than to do less. These were in early 1993, after Bill Clinton took office following his victory over the incumbent George H.W. Bush in an election focused on economic issues; in October 2001, weeks after the 9/11 terrorist attacks; and in 2020 during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Consistent with their party platforms, most Republicans (75%) currently say the government is doing too many things, and most Democrats (66%) believe the government should be doing more. Independents' views mirror the national average.
Since 2011, no less than 64% of Democrats have said the government should be doing more than it is, including a high of 83% in 2020. Over that same period, no less than 70% of Republicans have said the government is doing too many things it shouldn't be.
Americans Most Likely to Believe Business Regulated Too Much
Twice as many Americans believe the government regulates business too much (46%) rather than too little (23%), and 29% say there is the right amount of regulation. For the past two years -- the first two of Biden's administration -- the percentage of Americans saying there is too much regulation has exceeded the percentages measured in 2018-2020, the last three years of Trump's administration. Similarly, more Americans thought there was too much business regulation under Barack Obama between 2009 and 2016 than under George W. Bush between 2001 and 2008.
The high point in saying there is too much regulation in Gallup's trend is 50% in 2011. A 1981 Los Angeles Times poll that asked the same question found 54% saying there was too much regulation. That poll was conducted early in Ronald Reagan's presidency, after he won election on a platform of cutting government regulation.
Americans' views of federal government power haven't changed over the past six years, which have spanned a number of issues or events that involved significant, if not unprecedented, government activity.
During this period, the U.S. Justice Department investigated possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia in the 2016 election, the U.S. House impeached Trump twice, and the FBI recently raided Trump's home looking for government records, including classified material. The federal government has also spent trillions of dollars addressing the COVID-19 pandemic and authorized $1 trillion for infrastructure and billions more for climate change legislation.
Consistent with the philosophies of the two major parties, Republicans are more likely than Democrats to believe the government is too powerful, is doing too many things that individuals and businesses should be doing, and that it is regulating business too much. However, those views are usually moderated by the party of the current president and whether his approach is in line with what Republicans or Democrats prefer.
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