- 54% of Americans say government doing too much, unchanged since 2021
- Steady increase since 1990s in Democrats’ view government should do more
- Majority, including most Republicans (81%), say government too powerful
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- A 54% majority of Americans believe the government is “trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses,” whereas 43% think it “should do more to solve the country’s problems.” This critique of the government is similar to Americans’ views over the past two years; however, it differs from 2020, when 54% of Americans said they wanted the government to do more. That reading, taken in the first year of the pandemic, is the only time in Gallup’s trend dating back to 1992 that a majority have wanted a more active government.
The latest findings are from Gallup’s Sept. 1-23 annual Governance poll. Americans’ current belief the government is doing too much that should be left to individuals or the private sector is about average for the trend since 1992, with that perspective registering as high as 60% in 1995 and as low as 41% in 2020.
View Government Too Active Is Higher When President Is a Democrat
Although Americans have almost always been more likely to believe the government is doing too much than too little, larger majorities tend to hold that view when a Democrat is president than when a Republican is.
Averaging the results for the past five presidencies, net belief that the government is doing too much rather than too little was higher during the Democratic presidencies of Bill Clinton (+17) and Barack Obama (+15) and lower during Republican George W. Bush’s time in office (+7). Perceptions about government activity were a wash during Republican Donald Trump’s presidency, when 48% each said the government was doing too much and said it should do more.
Since Democrat Joe Biden took office in 2021, the percentage of Americans saying the government is doing too much has exceeded those saying it is not doing enough by an average of 10 points, 53% to 43%. While indicating more public concern about government activity than during the Bush and Trump years, today’s margin of concern about the government is on the low side for a Democratic president.
The pattern whereby Americans express greater concern about government activity when Democrats are in the White House than when Republicans are partly reflects Republicans’ and independents’ views shifting by president. Republicans and independents have generally expressed heightened concern that the government is doing too much when Democrats are in power and diminished concern when Republicans are.
Rather than vary their perception of governmental vigor by presidency, Democrats have grown increasingly likely to want the government to do more, rising from 61% at the start of Clinton’s presidency in 1993 to 75% today. This dynamic also explains why concern about excessive government has been lower under Biden than it was under Obama and Clinton, because fewer Democrats hold that view today than in the past.
Custom graphic. Three trend line graphs showing Americans' views on whether the government is doing too much or too little to solve the country's problems, by political party.
More Americans See Too Much Than Too Little Government Regulation
Americans are more inclined to say the government regulates business and industry too much (44%) than too little (25%), while 31% think there’s the right amount. The current figures are similar to the long-term averages for this trend since 2001.
As with the question about government activity, more Americans have, on average, perceived excess government regulation during years when Democrats served as president than Republicans. An average of 44% of U.S. adults have said there is too much government regulation during the first three years of Biden’s term, higher than the 40% average under Trump and 37% under Bush. However, current concern is not quite as high as it was during Obama’s presidency (48%).
Meanwhile, public attitudes about government power in general have been largely stable over the past two decades; since 2005, between 50% and 60% of Americans have said the federal government has too much power, while less than 10% have said it has too little. The remaining third or so have said it has the right amount of power.
The broad stability in national attitudes about government power masks significant changes over time among partisans. Republicans’ belief that the government is too powerful has been sharply higher when the president is a Democrat. Democrats tend to be more concerned about government power under Republican presidents -- although under Trump, more Republicans than Democrats were concerned overall. Independents’ views have been stable, by comparison.
Currently, 81% of Republicans, 59% of independents and 26% of Democrats say the federal government has too much power.
Americans’ baseline assumption about the federal government is that it is overstepping its bounds by doing too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses and that it has too much power. Majorities of Americans have held those positions in most years since 2008, except for 2020, when the pandemic placed unprecedented demands on the government to protect Americans’ health and livelihoods and Americans were unhappy with the way Trump was handling the issue. Americans are less convinced that government regulation of businesses is excessive, but the 44% saying there is too much regulation far exceeds those saying there is too little.
All of these perceptions vary by party. However, while Republicans’ and independents’ views on the appropriate amount of government activity have varied by the party of the president, Democrats have gradually become bigger advocates of an activist government, wanting it to do more to solve the country’s problems -- even when a Democrat is in office.
To stay up to date with the latest Gallup News insights and updates, follow us on Twitter.
Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.