How Much Government Is Good Government? Americans’ Opinions Evenly Divided


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.

Personal Liberty

Ben Bullard

Reconciling the concept of individual sovereignty with conscientious participation in the modern American political process is a continuing preoccupation for staff writer Ben Bullard. A former community newspaper writer, Bullard has closely observed the manner in which well-meaning small-town politicians and policy makers often accept, unthinkingly, their increasingly marginal role in shaping the quality of their own lives, as well as those of the people whom they serve. He argues that American public policy is plagued by inscrutable and corrupt motives on a national scale, a fundamental problem which individuals, families and communities must strive to solve. This, he argues, can be achieved only as Americans rediscover the principal role each citizen plays in enriching the welfare of our Republic.

Join the Discussion

Comment Policy: We encourage an open discussion with a wide range of viewpoints, even extreme ones, but we will not tolerate racism, profanity or slanderous comments toward the author(s) or comment participants. Make your case passionately, but civilly. Please don't stoop to name calling. We use filters for spam protection. If your comment does not appear, it is likely because it violates the above policy or contains links or language typical of spam. We reserve the right to remove comments at our discretion.

  • robanbieber

    It is amazing the mental disconnect that people have that want bigger government but do not want higher taxes….. where do they actually think that the money comes from for bigger government?… oh yeah they can just print more money which is what we are doing now …. this is a disaster happening before our very eyes…..

    • vicki

      The apparent disconnect occurs because we fail to remember that the people that want bigger government do want higher taxes…. on the rich.

      • rivahmitch

        The old “Don’t tax you, Don’t tax me, Tax that fellow behind the tree.” syndrome. TANSTAAFL!!!

  • Doc Sarvis

    Close to 100% of those surveyed used government roads that day, use or know someone who uses Medicare/Medicaid, uses the mail, enjoys relatively clean air and water, has relatively healthy food choices, enjoys a consistent energy grid, if they are not in states rolling back voting rights (like NC and others) can vote for their representatives, have local law enforcement and emergency services, etc.

    • Robert Messmer

      “Rolling back voting rights”? You mean they have passed laws forbidding women? under 21 years of age? etc from voting? Or are you saying that they wish to see positive ID that the person voting is really the person they are claiming to be? Perhaps they, because of budget constraints, are limiting “early voting”? You know, there is a reason why it is called Election “Day” and not Election “Month”. Damn! its not like they are actually being required to sacrifice any thing to be able to vote, other than show up on Election Day. Not like they have to actually do any service for their country. Don’t have to be able to read, don’t have to pay any taxes other than local and maybe sin taxes the Feds levy on alcohol and tobacco. Until the morons came up with the crap about early voting I always had to make the choice of either getting up earlier so I could vote before going to work or getting home later after voting after working or not going to work so I could vote. Of course while I was in the service I didn’t have those problems, just during the time I was a civilian. Since I had to have an ID in order to get a job, get a library card, open a bank account, etc it never occurred to me that I should be able to vote without proving who I am. So the argument that having to have an ID card is somehow an illegal imposition, an unconstitutional bar to voting is a dog that don’t hunt.

  • scott miller

    Because the post office, medicare, medicade, social security, hell pick a federal program or department and you would be hard pressed to find any run at budget or not going bankrupt,

    Yes big government works wonderfully, now excuse me while i go facepalm.

    In related news IQ have dropped 14 pts over previous generations, yes we are getting dumber.

  • Vigilant

    What government should or should not do is NOT determined by the opinions of voters, low-information or otherwise. it is determined by the Constitution.

    Of course, liberals have always believed that the nation should be run according to their own opinions, not by the rule of law.

    • smilee

      Then why is it that the Obama administration has won almost all their arguments before the SC which says that they are going by the Constitution and not their own opinion which is one and the same.. Conservatives have a hard time because they do not like the Constitution so they interpret it to fit their own bias instead of what the Constitution actually says which so many do not understand

      • Vigilant

        Learn to read, idiot. My comment addresses the one thing: that opinion polls have no bearing on Constitutionality.

        Your stupid comment proves it.

        “Stupidity is a talent for misconception.”
        Edgar Allan Poe

        • smilee

          There you go again. Going on ff on a tangent which you always do when you have nothing to rebutt me with. That is stupidity idiot. SC decisions are not opinion polls, Obamacare is not law because of opinion polls and that goes for all the decisions Obama has won before the court . REBUTT the facts in these cases you cannot because they are your reality even if you do not like it.

          • Vigilant

            Stupidity is also a gift of God, but one mustn’t misuse it.
            Pope John Paul II

      • Robert Messmer

        Dred Scott. The SCOTUS is not always right. Never has been, never will be because the Justices are human.

        • smilee

          That in my opinion is the worst. Agreed but this is one of the exceptions not the rule. Never said there has not been mistakes but that has not been the case with the cases Obama administration has argued before the court with the exception of the voters rights law and the citizens united which they opposed. They get it right more times than not

          • Robert Messmer

            Whereas I would also say the administration gets it wrong when they sue States to prevent them from various ways to defend themselves from the invasion of illegals. Granted that is a function that the Federal government is charged with doing but since it has completely failed, I do not believe the States should be prohibited from doing so and especially not when it is costing taxpayers’ money to do so.

          • smilee

            Believe what you want but the Constitution does not support your belief and Obama and the courts got this one right.

      • franklin

        Your a clown smilee Another Liberal Hand out person who is
        more then likely on food stamps

        • smilee

          Your a lousy joke, we Union people made too much money to qualify for food stamps and our pensions are so big our seniors do not either. I have never qualified for food stamps and as a senior with a big pension will never have to. The lions share of them go to the right to work states whom mostly vote conservative these days but still take their food stamps,, income credits, rent subsidies etc

  • paendragon

    As Einstein noted, the only real purpose of government is to act as the largest collectively-owned insurance company, to defend our collective needs (to basics like air, water, food, shelter, health and education) while not pandering to any private wants, and to use economies of scale (bulk buying) to get the best price to do so – period.

    We certainly don’t need the polemic Punch ‘N’ Judy puppet show of the right wing (“We NEVER need government , for anything!”) versus the left wing (“We ALWAYS need Government, for everything!”) to divide and conquer us. Just keep the needs separate from the wants, and “governing” isn’t rocket surgery! Abolish all political parties and the politicians would go back to being PUBLIC servants from being (as they currently are) only corporazi-owned sales-puppets.

    Since only collectivist liberals believe in selling victimology and in group-might-made-rights, in us-versus-them conformity, and Conservatives believe in live and let live individual rights and responsibilities, ONLY liberals oppress people; Conservatives believe in equality of opportunity; liberals believe in equality of outcome, which is an attack on those who actually try to succeed, in favor of those that don’t.

    Collective needs – to air, water, food, shelter (needs being those things without which we suffer pain and/or die) are “collective,” because if someone poisons any of them in a certain area, EVERYONE is affected.

    Those we hire to manage the insurance company and collect the dues are not parents nor owners, they are servants.

    But other than that (infrastructure defense) what do we need politicians for?!

    All liberal “laws” (What Mark Levin describes as “positivist” laws) are, in fact, crimes.

    The only principle any one ever need agree to, is of course the Golden Rule of Law which defines all situational morality as “Do Not Attack First.”

    From this agreement, we gain trust, progress, and civilization; this “social contract” means our only real right is to not be attacked first, and our only real responsibility is to not attack (therefore innocent) others first. Period.

    The rest are all symptoms, and all sub-sequent valid legislation depends on that Rule: Every law is an if/then warning which says, in effect: If and when you choose to attack first in this, that, or those ways, then this, that, and these punishments will apply to you.

    Bad laws are crimes because they attack first. At “best” they are only ‘ethical’ lists of rules and excuses amerliorating bad, attack-first criminal premises.

    A “Judge’s” only job is to determine rational cause-and-effect (who started it) and all irrational criminal excuses or alibis are based on the opposite, victim-blaming slanderous pretense.

    It should therefore be easy for any judge to see if a law is bad (an attempt to deprive citizens of due process, by disregarding any need for evidence by slanderously insisting on asserting that they are Guilty Until Never Proven Innocent, and so must impossibly prove a negative in order to defend them selves).

    Bad laws are slanderously “pre-emptive” first attacks, like all gun control laws:

    “Since you DO own a gun, therefore you WILL use it to commit some crimes, SO we must now stop you by ‘defensively’ attacking you first – for your own good, of course!” There’s no if/then; they are threats, not valid warnings. Pretty much every “law” any liberal ever passes, is some form of extortion like this.

    Guns exist. They will never again not-exist. More laws do not equal order. In general, no force or police or laws are necessary among free citizens who can and will govern themselves, while the opposite is: no amount of force or police or laws are enough for a people who CANNOT – or will not – govern themselves.

    Other bad laws depend not on what your free-will choice of what you might DO might eventually be, but on their subjective yet objectifying definition of what you ARE: in islam’s prejudicially slanderous us-versus-them and might makes right sharia code, all weaker groups – foreign infidels, women, children, slaves – are openly and officially pre-discriminated against, encoded right into their system of criminal laws.

    Bad (“defensively pre-emptive”) laws are crimes because they attack first.

    Unfortunately, there’s only so many symptoms of “Do Not Attack First!” one can address with “laws” of morality, only so many right answers, before one must veer off into exploiting the almost infinite number of sorta almost right,(but really wrong) answers, in order to keep up the pretense that one is actually doing something responsible to earn one’s pay and enjoy the right to govern others – a point at which, when reached, societies decline into criminality and empires fall into ruin.

    The American Constitution was designed to prevent the government from attacking the people first, in so many basic enumerated ways, listing the most important symptoms of this most basic Golden Rule of Law & morality.

  • Patriot66

    this poll is a good indication of what happens when you import millions of people that need taking care of by our tax dollars. The only thing I want a central government to do is protect us militarily. All we need is a navy and an army (sorry air force, marines, national guard and US coast guard…) but these branch’s each have fighter jets, special forces and ships. I actually liked the idea of each State contributing to this, but I digress. The truth of the matter is, we just have too much excess baggage to take care of. The working class has been enslaved to support an out of control spending government that pisses our tax dollars away on un-needed military endeavor’s and useless individuals who need to go back to their own countries, or just put a little extra crack in the needle and end it once and for all. Tough love.

  • ChuckS123

    If someone wants a moderate sized gov, he really wants it a lot smaller than it is now.

    I say the gov is like an 800 lb man. The libs want $billions to buy him french fries so he doesn’t starve. Conservatives say he should loose a little weight. Not enough say he should loose a lot of weight.