Politics

Democrats Growing Wary of Federal Government's Power

Republicans generally satisfied with federal power

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- The American public is evenly divided over whether the federal government these days has too much power. Exactly half of Americans interviewed in Gallup's 2005 Governance Survey, conducted Sept. 12-15, say the federal government has too much power. The same number believes the government is doing too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses. Somewhat fewer, 37%, believe the government "poses an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens."

The perception that the federal government has too much power is more widespread today than it has been in recent years. Between 2002 and 2003, Gallup recorded only a slight increase in the percentage of all national adults saying the government has too much power (from 39% to 43%). The bigger change came in just the past year, with the figure jumping eight points -- from 42% in 2004 to 50% today.

Democrats, in particular, have grown more critical of government power. Between 2002 and today, the percentage of Democrats saying the government has too much power increased by 20 points, with more than half of that increase occurring in the past year. There have been much smaller increases (five points) in the percentages of Republicans and independents taking this position.

The percentage of national adults saying the federal government poses a threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens has also increased, rising from 30% when first asked in 2003, to 35% in 2004, to 37% today.

At the same time, there has been virtually no variability in Americans' broader assessments of the role of government. This conclusion is based on the trend for a Gallup Governance Poll question asking whether people agree more that "the government is trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses" or that "government should do more to solve our country's problems." The results from September for each of the last four years (the same surveys on which the government power questions were asked) show between 49% and 51% saying the government is doing too much, and 41% to 44% saying the government should do more.

What Sparked Power Concerns?

Whether the heightened sense that the federal government is too powerful reflects concerns about government power specifically, or disagreement with the Bush administration more generally, is not clear.

Gallup's measure of government power was instituted in September 2002, nearly a year after the anti-terrorism law known as the USA Patriot Act was enacted in response to the 9/11 attacks. Thus, the trend does not document the initial impact the Patriot Act may have had on attitudes toward government compared with previous points in time. However, the percentage in 2002 saying the government was too powerful (39%) was relatively small, suggesting that the Patriot Act did not immediately ignite a firestorm of concern about infringements on personal freedoms.

Another potential factor explaining increased criticism of government power is the rather sharp decline of President Bush's general popularity since 2002. Across Gallup's annual Governance polls, Bush's approval fell from 66% in September 2002, to 52% in September 2003 and 2004, to 45% in September 2005. With much of this decline occurring among Democrats, it is not unexpected that Democrats would become concomitantly more critical of other aspects of the federal government, such as its level of power.

Power vs. Role of Government

This is not to say that Democrats have abandoned their traditional philosophy in favor of an active government. In answer to Gallup's role of government question, 57% of Democrats say they want the government to do more to solve the country's problems; only 37% think the government is doing too much.

Republicans tend to take the opposing view on this question. Nearly two-thirds say the government is doing too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses.

The result is that Republicans and Democrats hold what some might consider incongruous sets of attitudes.

Republicans are generally satisfied with the government's level of power: 56% say the federal government has about the right amount of power. But most Republicans (65%) also hold the conventional GOP view that the federal government is doing too many things that should be left to the private sector.

Democrats, on the other hand, are generally critical of the amount of power the federal government uses: 55% say it has too much power; but the majority (57%) also believe the government should do more to solve the nation's problems.

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 921 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Sept. 12-15, 2005. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±4 percentage points. 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.

The sample for this survey did not include the areas of Louisiana and Mississippi that were declared federal disaster areas following Hurricane Katrina. This accounts for about less than 1% (0.75%) of the U.S. adult population.

27. Some people think the government is trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses. Others think that government should do more to solve our country's problems. Which comes closer to your own view?

Government
doing too much

Government
should do more

No
opinion

%

%

%

2005 Sep 12-15

50

44

6

2004 Nov 19-21

55

36

9

2004 Sep 13-15

49

41

10

2003 Oct 24-26

52

40

8

2003 Sep 8-10

51

43

6

2002 Sep 5-8

50

43

7

2001 Oct 5-6

41

50

9

2001 Sep 7-10

55

36

9

2000 Sep 11-13

50

37

13

2000 Aug 18-19

54

38

8

1999 Sep 10-14

55

39

6

1998 Oct 29-30

50

38

12

1998 Apr 17-19

59

33

8

1997 Jan 31-Feb 2

58

33

9

1996 Jan 12-15

58

35

7

1995 Dec 15-19

60

32

8

1994 Nov 2-6

55

37

8

1994 Oct 22-25

57

37

6

1994 Jan 15-17

54

39

7

1993 Dec 17-19

55

38

7

1993 Apr 22-24

49

45

6

1993 Mar 22-24

45

49

6

1992 Oct 23-25

48

44

8

1992 Sep 11-15

51

43

6

1992 Aug 31-Sep 2

50

43

7

31. Do you think the federal government today -- [ROTATED: has too much power, has about the right amount of power, or has too little power]?

Too
much

About the
right amount

Too
little

No
opinion

%

%

%

%

2005 Sep 12-15

50

43

6

1

2004 Sep 13-15

42

49

7

2

2003 Sep 8-10

43

49

7

1

2002 Sep 5-8

39

52

7

2

33. Do you think the federal government poses an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens, or not?

Yes,
immediate
threat

No,
does not

No
opinion

%

%

%

2005 Sep 12-15

37

62

1

2004 Sep 13-15

35

63

2

2003 Sep 8-10 ^

30

68

2

^ Asked of a half sample

Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/19063/Democrats-Growing-Wary-Federal-Governments-Power.aspx Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A +1 202.715.3030