National poll finds increasing skepticism of government regulation

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Results from national polling company Gallup’s annual governance survey suggest that a growing number of Americans believe that government’s interference in their lives has grown too large. Surveying randomly selected individuals across the nation, researchers found that 49 percent of Americans feel that government is too active in their lives, while only 22 percent say that government should play a larger role in everyday life.

Growing Sentiment

Over the past 12 years, Gallup’s polling has found a relatively steady increase in the number of everyday people feeling the squeeze of government regulations. Excluding a two-year “rally effect” — attributed by researchers to pro-government sentiments sparked by the 2001 World Trade Center terrorist attacks — more and more Americans have expressed that the government has intruded into too many aspects of their lives.

Likewise, the proportion of surveyed citizens believing that government enacts the “right amount” of, or “too much” regulation has trended downward. In 2005, 40 percent of Americans were comfortable with the scope of government interference in their lives, and 23 percent felt that government needed to interfere more. This year, however, the percentage of individuals holding both flavors of pro-regulatory sentiments reached near-record lows — 27 percent of surveyed Americans reported that they felt government’s current size was sufficient, and 22 percent of respondents wanted government to seize more power.

“Americans are correct to be concerned about government regulation,” according to Mark Thornton, Senior Fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Institute. “It only kills jobs and raises costs and prices to consumers.”


Confirming stereotypes about members of the nation’s two major political parties, the survey also confirmed the growing divide between Republicans and Democrats, with 76% of the former indicating that there is too much regulation compared with only 22% of the latter.

Gallup’s analysis of its polling data suggests that the overall increase of regulatory skepticism has been driven by a shift in Republicans’ views, as Democratic Party members’ support of government regulation has been largely consistent and dominant over the surveyed 13 years.

In the years during which Republican president George W. Bush held office, the majority of Republican Party members did not feel that government interference was a problem.

However, after President Barack Obama took office, a supermajority of Republican Party members quickly began to adopt a negative opinion of Big Government. Pro-liberty sentiment within the Republican Party peaked in 2011, when a whopping 84 percent of Republicans said that government had too much power.

Reevaluating Assumptions

While supporters of regulatory bloat say that the increase in government’s power is necessary to protect the economy from itself, experts believe that the rise of skepticism noted by Gallup’s polling may be fueled by the public’s reevaluation of old assumptions about the consequences of “doing nothing.”

“‘Free markets’ and ‘laissez-faire’ do not mean businesses get to run wild. The opposite is true,” Crews said, seemingly echoing the growing sentiment of the American public. “They are disciplined by their suppliers, their business customers, consumers, financial markets, the media, and rivals.”

During the polling period of September 4 until September 7, Gallup researchers polled 1,017 randomly selected Americans aged 18 and older, using both landline and cellular telephones.

D. Brady Nelson (darren.nelson@mac.comis an economist, writer, and speaker from Brisbane, Australia, Nelson is a regulation expert with The Heartland Institute.


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