2008 record      


Americans are deeply split on the role of government, but the majority at this point think Washington should be smaller and provide fewer services, according to the latest IBD/TIPP poll.

Overall, nearly six in 10 (59%) Americans surveyed in February think the federal government has too much power, 31% believe it has the right amount of power and 7% say it has too little power.

Not surprisingly, 83% of Republicans and 72% of conservatives believe the government is too powerful. But 64% of independents and 62% of moderates feel the same way. Majorities of Democrats (52%) and liberals (54%) think the government has the right amount of power.

This political alignment of Republicans with independents and the ideological alignment of conservatives and moderates make small-government supporters a force to be reckoned with.

The breakdowns were similar when the 915 respondents were asked how big a government they preferred and how many services they desired. Overall, a majority (54%) prefer a smaller government providing fewer services, and 34% want a bigger government providing more services. Republicans prefer a small government by 80% to 13%, and independents prefer a smaller government by 62% to 27%. By contrast, Democrats prefer a bigger government by a 56%-28% spread.

The preference for a smaller federal government could stem from a lack of trust in Washington. An overwhelming 70% believe Washington can be trusted to do what's right only some of the time. Fewer than one in six (14%) trust Washington to do what is right most of the time. A meager 1% say that Washington can be trusted "always," and 15% believe Washington can never be trusted.

The ideological composition of the country is 42% conservative, 37% moderate and 19% liberal. By party, 33% are Democrats, 28% Republicans and 35% independents.

Our results show that conservatives and moderates coalesce on the vision of small government. So, too, do Republicans and independents.

Though Democrats outnumber Republicans, Republicans and independents who believe in a smaller government outnumber Democrats who favor big government 63% to 33%. Ideologically, conservatives and moderates outnumber liberals (79% to 19%).

These splits are manifested in almost all debates — whether the issue is health care reform or increasing the debt ceiling or even the oft-discussed Cloward-Piven strategy that aims to bring down capitalism by making such heavy demands on the bureaucracy that society is pushed into crisis and economic collapse.

Take the debate over health care reform. A big reason reform legislation is still up in the air is that those who share the small-government vision are resisting it. Overall, 21% are happy with reform, and 26% want the bill expanded. But virtually the same percentage (46%) want it repealed.

Two-thirds (67%) of small-government supporters favor repeal. Nearly half (47%) of big-government supporters want to expand the bill and another 28% want to leave it as is.

On the issue of increasing the nation's debt ceiling, 71% Americans oppose such a move, with 83% of small-government supporters in this camp. A smaller majority (53%) of big-government backers oppose a higher ceiling.

The different attitudes toward government can even be seen on television viewership. Fox News, for example, attracts the larger segment of America that believes in small government, while MSNBC's attraction is limited to the relatively smaller segment that believes in big government.

As for a Cloward-Piven strategy, it is reasonable to say that despite the media hype, the nation is insulated from any such onslaught because the sheer number of small-government believers would never let it happen.

Mayur is president of TechnoMetrica Market Intelligence, which directs the IBD/TIPP Poll that was the most accurate in the last two presidential elections.

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