It is a practically a cliche that Americans prefer small government. A recent survey by the Pew Research Center would seem to confirm this. When asked if government regulation did more harm than good, 52 per cent of Americans agreed while only 40 per cent felt regulation was necessary for the public good. Cliche proved.
But wait a minute. When Pew when on to ask about specific regulatory bodies, the response was often quite different. For example, 53 per cent said regulations on food production and packaging should be increased and 36 per cent said they should remain as they are. Only seven per cent said they should be reduced. Fifty per cent said environmental regulations should be strengthened, 29 per cent said they should remain the same, and only 17 per cent said they should be reduced. Furthermore they felt some groups, including large corporations and banks and financial institutions should be regulated more. While Americans may view federal regulations negatively in the abstract, solid
majorities want to maintain or even strengthen them in certain specific
areas. Clearly, sometimes they want more government, not less.
Nonetheless, one thing is not in doubt. They are unhappy with government. When it came to the effect various institutions were having on the country, they ranked government at the bottom—only 20 per cent felt their federal government was having a positive effect.
So what does this mean? Do Americans really support smaller government, or are they just very unhappy with the government they currently have, or is government just a convenient scapegoat for a deeply troubled country? The answer is obviously a lot more complex than size alone.