Tom Purcell: Is government too big?
Q: Is the government too big and powerful? Does a one-legged duck swim in circles?
A: Ah, yes, you speak of a recent Gallup survey that found 60 percent of Americans think the federal government has too much power — a full percentage point higher than the previous high recorded in September 2010. Gallup’s Joy Wilke did a fine job breaking down the survey data.
Q: Yeah, and I’ll bet that percentage has jumped lots more over the past few decades.
A: You are correct. In 2005, about 50 percent of Americans felt the government was getting too big and powerful — 10 percent less than now.
Q: What I want to know is who are the 40 percent or so who do NOT think the government has gotten too big?
A: That’s an interesting question. Thirty-two percent now say the government has the right amount of power and 7 percent say it doesn’t have enough.
Q: Not enough! Who the heck are the 7-percenters?
A: There are always some people who think the government can solve all our problems. Thankfully, their numbers are not growing. They have been at 7 percent since Gallup started tracking this big-government issue.
Q: I’ll bet the survey reflects a high level of division among conservatives, moderates and liberals.
A: That is also correct. Republicans tend to think government is doing too much, whereas Democrats tend to agree that government can do good. Of course, Republicans and Democrats have gotten mighty polarized since President Obama took office in 2009.
Q: That makes sense. Obama embraced all the big-government security initiatives of President Bush, then gave us a massive new entitlement program, Obamacare.
A: Yes, and these measures have the country more divided than ever. However, Republicans’ and Democrats’ views have generally become more polarized since Obama took office. In 2002, the two parties were about equally likely to view the federal government as too powerful, at 36 percent and 35 percent, respectively, with independents, at 45 percent, most likely to say this.
Q: And now?
A: Right now, 81 percent of Republicans think the government is too powerful. But 38 percent of Democrats agree that the government is too powerful — the highest percentage since President Obama took office.
Q: I can see how politics factors in, but hopefully, the data reveal that some people don’t let their political views affect their concerns?
A: Thankfully, that is true with some. As Bush grew the government in the war on terror, both Republicans and Democrats began reporting increasing unease about government gaining too much power — with the NSA and other government agencies now out of control, there is good reason to be concerned.
Q: If so many Americans are concerned that the government is getting too big and powerful, why do so many keep voting for bigger government?
A: Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, offers some interesting insights on that in his book "Gross National Happiness." After mining reams of data, he found very different viewpoints among conservatives and liberals.
Q: What did the data reveal?
A: They showed that conservatives hold more traditional values — faith, marriage, family, freedom, hard work. They believe in the individual and just want to be left alone.
Q: And liberals were the reverse?
A: That is correct. Liberals see government as a way to right perceived wrongs. And they vote for politicians who promise to impose more rules, regulations and mandates on the people who make them unhappy. But you have to admit, Republican politicians these days are just as likely to use the largess of the federal trough to promise voters goodies in return for their votes.
Tom Purcell is a columnist for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. Email Tom at Purcell@caglecartoons.com.