Majorities in U.S. View Gov't as Too Intrusive and Powerful

by Lydia Saad

Independents largely side with Republicans in denouncing big government

PRINCETON, NJ -- Record- or near-record-high percentages of Americans are critical of the size and scope of government, as measured by four Gallup trend questions updated in September. This sentiment stretches to 59% of Americans now believing the federal government has too much power, up eight percentage points from a year ago.

2002-2010 Trend: Americans' Perceptions of Federal Government's Power

Nearly as many Americans also give the antigovernment response to a question asking whether government should do more to solve the country's problems or whether it is doing too many things that should be left to businesses and individuals. Today's 58% saying it is doing too much is just slightly below the 59% to 60% levels recorded in the mid- to late '90s.

1992-2010 Trend: Perceptions of Government's Role in Solving Nation's Problems

The latest results are based on Gallup's annual Governance survey, cosponsored this year by USA Today, and conducted Sept. 13-16.

Americans are about evenly split over whether the government is overreaching with its regulation of business and industry versus doing too little or the right amount in this area. However, the 49% now saying there is too much government regulation is the highest seen in the past decade.

2001-2010 Trend: Views on Government Regulation of Business and Industry

Americans continue to disagree rather than agree that the federal government poses an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens. However, the current 51% to 46% split on this question represents the narrowest margin since Gallup first asked it in 2003.

2003-2010 Trend: Perceived Federal Government Threat to Individuals

Independents Join Republicans in Rebuking Government

Solid majorities of Republicans are critical of government on all four government role questions reviewed here, while equally large majorities of Democrats defend the government's size and influence.

Consistent with independents' ongoing preference for Republican congressional candidates this year, majorities of independents side with Republicans in saying the government has too much power, is doing too many things, and is going too far with regulation of the private sector. Independents are divided at 49% to 49% over whether the government represents an immediate threat to citizens' liberty.

September 2010: Perceptions of Government Size and Scope, by Party ID

Bottom Line

An expanded proportion of Americans in 2010 believe the government has overstepped its bounds -- growing too intrusive and too powerful. Also, nearly half now consider the government a threat to individual liberty. However, the boundaries Americans want government to operate within are well described in the 2010 USA Today/Gallup Governance survey, and they turn out to be fairly moderate. On a 5-point scale ranging from extreme activism on the part of government to extreme minimalism, Americans are evenly distributed around the midpoint, with relatively few picking either extreme. Thus emerges a picture of a populace that wants a certain amount of government involvement in promoting the wellbeing of Americans -- certainly not too much, but also not too little.

Survey Methods

Results for this USA Today/Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Sept. 13-16, 2010, with a random sample of 1,019 adults, aged 18 and older, living in the continental U.S., selected using random-digit-dial sampling.

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 landline telephones (for respondents with a landline telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell phone-only). Each sample includes a minimum quota of 150 cell phone-only respondents and 850 landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents for gender within region. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, education, region, and phone lines. Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2009 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in continental U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.

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.

View methodology, full question results, and trend data.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit http://www.gallup.com/.

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