Americans Leery of Too Much Gov't Regulation of Business

by Frank Newport

Republicans in particular are worried about too much government regulation

PRINCETON, NJ -- At a time of increasing debate over the optimal relationship between government and business in the U.S., new Gallup polling shows that 57% of Americans are worried that there will be too much government regulation of business, while 37% worry that there will not be enough. Half of Americans believe the government should become less involved in regulating and controlling business, with 24% saying the government should become more involved and 23% saying things are about right.

Which Worries You More: Too Much or Too Little Government Regulation of Business

Should the Federal Government Become More Involved or Less Involved in Regulating and Controlling Business, or Are Things About Right as They Are?

Two questions Gallup asked on Jan. 26-27 measured the American public's overall views toward government regulation of business.

The first asked directly about government regulation of business. The second asked Americans if they worried more about the prospect of too much or too little government regulation. Responses to both questions indicate that Americans remain leery of too much government regulation and control over business. This sentiment persists despite a significant loss of the public's confidence in banks and skepticism about the honesty and ethics of bankers over the last two years, and with increased focus on the negative impact of the actions of some big banks and other businesses on the nation's financial crisis.

These results are generally consistent with a slightly different question that Gallup last updated in late August and early September of last year. Those results showed that about a quarter of Americans felt there was too little government regulation of business and industry. The majority of Americans believed that there was either too much regulation, or about the right amount.

The current "worry" question measures these attitudes in a different way, but shows the same basic pattern of results. Given a choice, a little more than a third of Americans say they worry more about not having enough regulation of business, while 57% say their worry is that there would be too much regulation.

Republicans Very Opposed to Government Regulation

There are, as might be expected, significant partisan differences in response to these questions.

Republicans (including Republican-leaning independents) have very strong opinions on the question of government regulation. Over three-quarters say the federal government should become less involved in regulating and controlling business. Democrats' (including Democratic leaners') opinions are more varied, splitting across the three options roughly equally. A slight plurality (36%) favor government's becoming more involved.

Should the Federal Government Become More Involved or Less Involved in Regulating and Controlling Business, or Are Things About Right as They Are? By Party ID

Republicans are even more unified in their sentiments on the "worry" question, with 83% saying they worry more that there will be too much, rather than too little, government regulation. Democrats have the opposite pattern of responses, and are inclined to see too little regulation as the bigger risk, although not by as great a margin.

Which Worries You More: Too Much or Too Little Government Regulation of Business? By Party ID

Bottom Line

Arguments over the optimal level of government involvement in the control and regulation of business are long-standing. The issue has become more front and center as the nation's economic crisis has unfolded over the last two years. President Barack Obama in his recent State of the Union speech, for example, mentioned the need to institute a fee on the biggest banks in order to continue to recover money given to banks; a proposal to slash tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas; instituting new regulations for financial institutions in order to provide more information to consumers; financial reforms that would affect lobbyists; and the healthcare reform effort that entails a great deal of government involvement in the nation's healthcare system.

While the American public may favor some of these initiatives on an individual basis, the current results underscore the degree to which the average American in a general sense is concerned about too much government involvement in business.

The issue has strong political overtones. Republicans are quite united in their opinions that the government should become less involved in controlling and regulating business, and also overwhelmingly express worry that the government may regulate too much. Democrats have somewhat more mixed opinions on the issue of government regulation and control of business, but are more concerned about too little government regulation rather than too much.

The questions reviewed here did not specify "big" or "small" business. Gallup research has consistently shown that Americans are much more sympathetic to the latter than to the former. Apparently sensitive to these attitudes, President Obama in his recent State of the Union address included a number of positive references to small businesses and efforts to help small business. At the same time, the address and subsequent budget proposals have included regulatory efforts aimed at big banks and other large businesses. It is possible that Americans -- while broadly disdaining the idea of more regulation in general -- could favor more regulation of specific large businesses, such as banks.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 972 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Jan. 26-27, 2010, as part of Gallup Daily tracking. 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 and cellular phones.

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.

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