Voters to Government: Get Out of Our Lives!
A new Gallup survey could spell bad news for both political parties heading into Election 2016, with voters saying they want a less active government role. While that may sound like a net boon for Republicans, who argue for a less intrusive and limited role for government, it cuts both ways and across-the-board.
According to Gallup, 51% of Americans now say the government should not promote any set of values and 43% say it should promote traditional values. The survey marks the second time in 4 years Gallup found voters want the government neutral regarding the promotion of values. To be sure, events appear to have an impact on the year-by-year fluctuations on this question, but there has undoubtedly been an observable trend away from the promotion of traditional values since 2005.
But there isn’t exactly cause for liberal Democrats–or progressives, or whatever they call themselves this decade–to celebrate this development. First, the trend is actually a reflection of the changing views of Republicans, not an increased number of Democrats. Average of 22% of Republicans from 2001-2004 thought government should remain value-neutral, but this has increased to 34% since 2011. That 12-percentage-point increase compares with an average four-point increase among independents (from 46% to 50%) and a seven-point increase among Democrats (54% to 61%) over the same time periods.
Second, The country still remains relatively divided on the issue and, again, the numbers have not been firmly on their side, unlike the question of
“Americans’ growing belief that the government should not favor any set of values represents a shift from the past, and is further evidence of a leftward tilt on matters of morality,” says Jeffrey Jones of Gallup. “At the same time, Americans retain their preference for a more limited government role in solving the nation’s problems, inconsistent with the preferences of the Democratic candidates.”
At the same time Republican and independent Americans’ views have shifted toward favoring a reduced government role in morality, they have stubbornly and encouraging maintained a preference for less government involvement in solving the country’s problems. In the latest Gallup survey, 55% say the government “is trying to do too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses,” while 40% believe the “government should do more to solve our country’s problems.” Those percentages are similar to the averages of 53% and 39%, respectively, since Gallup began tracking Americans’ views on the role of government in 1993.
Ironically, Americans were more closely divided in its preferences briefly at the beginning of Bill Clinton’s presidency in 1993, shortly before he was forced to say “the era of big government is over” during his State of the Union Address, and favored limited government by a smaller margin from 2006-2008 near the end of George W. Bush’s administration, when his approval ratings were in the dumps.
Again, we see Democrats’ views on this issue are at odds with the general public and, in fact, Republicans and independents are growing increasingly skeptical of the government’s role in problem-solving. While a majority of Republicans have always believed the government is doing too many things, “that percentage has grown from an average 68% in 2001-2004 to 83% since 2011.” Alongside the GOP, independents have also shown an increase in this sentiment, up 9 points from 49% to 58%.
“Meanwhile, Democrats’ preference for a less active federal government has declined from an average 37% to 27%, with the change more pronounced since 2012,” Jones added.