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Gallup: Americans Divided, But More Still Prefer Less Government Involvement

Michael Morris
By Michael Morris | September 30, 2014 | 9:49 AM EDT

Americans are divided, with limited government intervention taking a slight edge, when asked to rate their preference regarding government activity on a one-to-five scale.

According to a Gallup poll, 35 percent of those polled indicated that they favored a more limited government that “provides only the most basic government functions,” while 32 percent preferred a government that “takes active steps in every area it can to try and improve the lives of its citizens.” All others polled remained somewhere in the middle.

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Gallup, having asked this question four times since 2010, has found that Americans are roughly divided into thirds “favoring a more active government, a less active government, or something in between.”

Gallup suggests that this is “especially noteworthy” considering the government’s arguably more active “role in solving the nation’s problems” throughout “the housing crisis, economic recession, and passage of the Affordable Care Act.”

It should come as no surprise that a majority of Democrats favored a more active government, while a majority of Republicans favored a more limited government respectively. Equally unsurprising, there were those who diverged from their respective parties’ platforms, with 38 percent of Democrats and 26 percent of Republicans placing themselves squarely in the middle on the five-point scale.

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Gallup has asked poll-takers about their thoughts on the government’s current activity level since 1992, and the results appear to turn on which political party is in control of the White House at the time. During the two Republican administrations over this stretch of time, 49 percent of Americans seemed to think that government was doing too much, compared with 55 percent of Americans who thought that government was doing too much during the two Democratic administrations.

The data also suggest that Americans are more concerned with the here and now, with more Americans leaning toward “the government is doing too much” side of the aisle. Of those who prefer a more active government, 74 percent say that government should be doing more to help the American people right now, whereas those who prefer a more limited government overwhelmingly think that government is playing much too great of a role now (86 percent). Those in the middle also lean in the direction of saying that government is currently doing too much.

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At first glance, and given America’s historically center-right paradigm, these statistics appear to be somewhat alarming. However, even though Gallup suggests that “Americans as a whole do not have a clear preference for whether the government should take an active role or a limited one,” their own data seems to suggest otherwise. In fact, Gallup’s poll data suggest that more Americans think that government is currently doing too much.

While the divide appears to be too close to call with regard to Gallup's first five-point scale question, whether government should be more limited (35 percent) or more active (32 percent), and while poll-takers appear to have, for the most part, consistently aligned themselves with their respective parties’ platforms, more Americans are saying that government “is [currently] trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses” (54 percent) than are saying that government should “do more to solve our country’s problems” (41percent).

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