A Gallup survey released Wednesday indicates a virtually dead-even three-way split in Americans’ opinions on the extent to which government “problem-solving” measures should permeate society, with virtually the same proportion of respondents advocating for big government as for small government. Those who believe government should play a moderate role in society comprised the remaining third.
The survey, which used a graduated five-point rating system to gauge Americans’ opinions about the role government ought to play, questioned 1,510 adults over a four-day period earlier this month. On the five-point scale, “5” represents government activism; “1” represents government at its most bare-bones functional.
Gallup worded the survey this way, phrasing the question under the heading “Preference Regarding Federal Government’s Role”:
Where would you rate yourself on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 means you think the government should do only those things necessary to provide the most basic government functions, and 5 means you think the government should tale active steps in every area it can to try and improve the lives of its citizens? You may use any number from 1 to 5.
An even 33 percent of respondents answered with a “3,” while 19 percent answered “5” and 16 percent answered “1.” Adding the progressives together — the percentage of people who answered either “4” or “5” — and big government appeals to 34 percent of those surveyed. Adding the “1” and “2” responses of small-government advocates yields a nearly identical number: 32 percent.
Things got a bit more interesting when Gallup asked whether people would favor a more limited government if, in the bargain, it meant that their tax burden would decrease. More than half would rather see the government get smaller, in exchange for tax reductions:
Although Americans’ basic preferences are divided between active and limited government, they tilt more heavily in the direction of limited government in a separate question asking for their preferred tradeoff between taxes and government involvement. A majority, 53%, favor less government involvement in addressing the nation’s problems in order to reduce taxes, while 13% favor more government involvement to address the nation’s problems, and higher taxes. Another 31% believe government involvement and taxes should be the same as they are now.
In addition, 55 percent of respondents said they think the current government is attempting to play too active a role in improving people’s lives, compared with 38 percent who believe the government isn’t doing enough. That’s the highest percentage of people who believe the current batch of national elected leaders are too hands-on since Gallup began asking the question in 1992.