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64% favour smaller government

Nick Forte has some good news in the struggle for ideas in the USA

The advocates for smaller government appear to be winning the war of ideas on this side of the pond if the following Rasmussen poll is accurate. For a long time I believed this to be the case, but I was surprised by the margin shown in the poll.

February 16, 2004–Sixty-four percent (64%) of American voters say that they prefer smaller government with fewer services and lower taxes. A Rasmussen Reports survey finds that just 22% would rather see a more active government with more services and higher taxes.

What is even more amazing is that even a majority of Democrats hold this view. Only the extreme left prefer more government over less government, and even then by not as large of a margin as one might have guessed.

Support for smaller government cuts across just about all demographic lines . It is the preference for 67% of men and 62% of…
[...]
… group, 49% say they want a more active government with more services and higher taxes. Just 40% prefer smaller government

It will be interesting to see how this will affect US politics. So far, President Bush has not been able to capitalize on what should be a Republican issue because he has been seen (accurately) as big spender despite his tax cuts. Somewhat counter-intuitively, an earlier Rasmussen poll shows that more Americans voters view the front running liberal New England Democratic presidential candidate as better able to control spending than the purportedly conservative Texan Republican candidate (42% to 33%).

There is indeed growing discontent among conservatives over Bush’s spending record. Last week, House Republicans held a ‘mandatory’ conference to come up with ideas to curtail runaway government spending. Among the more radical initiatives under discussion are measures to curb the power of House authorizers and appropriators who have routinely ignored budget limits, giving the budget resolution the force of law, and requiring two-thirds supermajorities in both the House and the Senate to pass spending provisions which exceed the budget.

Although some Republican members of Congress are true believers in the need to reduce the size of government, many more are probably reacting to concerns that Americans are turning to the Democrats as the party of fiscal responsibility, undercutting a traditional GOP advantage. Could it be that political pressures for lower spending has finally overtaken the normal election year drive by politicians to buy more votes through higher government spending? Recent actions by Congress suggest not, but I remain cautiously optimistic.

Nick Forte
Falls Church, Virginia

21 comments to 64% favour smaller government

  • Verity

    People *say* they want smaller government, but at the ballot box, they vote rises for themselves in the form of more government programmes, which take more administrators, checkers, supervisors, regulators, blah blah blah. The hope is, the Californians genuinely voted for smaller government. As most trends worldwide start in CA, maybe there’s hope.

  • ” Somewhat counter-intuitively, an earlier Rasmussen poll shows that more Americans voters view the front running liberal New England Democratic presidential candidate as better able to control spending than the purportedly conservative Texan Republican candidate”

    There’s no paradox to this. A deadlocked government is likely the best bet to control spending, and that happy state is precisely what getting a Democrat into the White House will bring about.

  • cerberus

    Best of luck on getting that 64% agree on which services to cut…

  • What cerberus said. Most Americans want to achieve smaller government by cutting the services and programs that they don’t benefit from. And even that desire is weak, falling somewhere in priority between, “I hope the cleaners get that stain out” and “Gee, I hope Friends isn’t a rerun this week.”

    “But God help any politician who cuts the service I want!”

  • Ironchef

    When in doubt, cut it. I work for a US state government. Sad to say, but the stereotypes are true. It’s all a waste of money. The costs associated with XXX gubmint program far exceed the benefits gained.

    People *say* they want smaller government, but at the ballot box, they vote rises for themselves in the form of more government programmes,

    We can only hope more people vote not on emotions but their minds.

  • JSAllison

    Couple of nights ago there was a piece on the local news here that the local DHS has embarked on a new program for ‘early learning’ or something, read pre-kindergarten for all kids 3 and under. Came complete with smarmy jerk calmly explaining that this was a ‘Good Thing’ with that Tom Brokaw smirk. My first thought was immediately: And just who is paying for this, and with what?…but then, we all know that answer, don’t we…

  • Right. I bet they want fewer services *for other people* and less taxes *for themselves*.

    I.e. I don’t think the unemployed want to pay more taxes on their entitlement, but boy, that military spending could sure use some cutting.

    And the defense contractor also wants lower taxes, but those medical benefits could use some trimming…

    The senior citizen also wants to pay less taxes, and yeah, those educators get way too much money…

  • toolkien

    Slightly different angle on this is, unfortunately, the role people think government is to play, assuring maximum freedom for them and limiting everyone else’s. Government isn’t about preserving property rights, its maximizing freedom for themselves while reducing those other fearsome forces that threaten it. It is about the only explanation for 2/3rds of the people really believing they want smaller government and yet it continues to grow apace. I’m fairly certain that the vast majority of those same people have some quasi-theocratic agenda in their pockets too.

    Until people realize that attempting to control the vagaries of life through government is useless, and its sole function is to use to force, and we had better be very clear when that force should be used. Should it be to secure property from those who have exhibited behaviors that threaten it or should it be to wrest property from people to provide graham crackers and chocolate milk for kindergarteners?

  • toolkien

    Sorry about the the three dependent clauses that led nowhere….

  • llamas

    Abiola Lapite is right in that gridlocked governments (President of the other party than the general run of the Congressional majorities) are the best way to control new spending. But new spending alone is not the only problem – the planned growth and entrenchment of entitlements (which is what every new spending initiative inevtably morphs into) is what’s eating us out of house and home.

    That being said, we might want to consider the other impacts that we might get from putting a Democrat into the White House in November. Controlling spending will be a pretty hollow victory if we abandon the war on terrorism and the death cult resumes its indiscriminate attacks on the US. I for one would be happy to see increased spending (= higher taxes) if I could see that the money was going directly to enhanced efforts to eliminate terrorism – one of the appropriate functions of a national government.

    llater,

    llamas

  • Andy

    Some of the people that want smaller government are too busy leading their productive lives to be vocal when it comes to government growth. The 22% that actually want larger government are more vocal (because they have a vested interest in larger government, like the unions, etc) they are heard – and the squeaky wheel gets the grease.

  • I sincerely hope that Rasmussen people do not decide to conduct any similar kind of research in the UK.

    The results would be more depressing than I could bear.

  • Wild Pegasus

    The rational but depressing problem is that people do want the services they use continued and the services they don’t cut off. And while they want taxes for others, they don’t want them for themselves. This leads us to Bastiat’s famous dictum that “the state is a great fiction where everyone tries to live at everyone else’s expense.”

    More generally, in polls like this one, a majority supports smaller government – fewer services and lower taxes. That is, they support it until you start with specifics:

    1. Do you think Social Security payments (I think it’s Social Insurance in Britain) should be cut? Should the retirement age be raised?

    2. Should Medicare services be cut or should Medicare be abolished (sub in “NHS”, Britons)?

    3. Should military spending be cut? If so, on what?

    4. Should education spending be cut? More drastically, should public schooling be abolished or made voluntary?

    And on and on and on. What researchers find out is that people are glad to cut foreign aid and reluctant to cut anything else. And most of them think about 1/5-1/4 of the budget is foreign aid, when it’s actually

  • Wild Pegasus

    …when it’s actually less than 1 percent.

    I forgot HTML tags start with the “lesser than” sign.

    – Josh

  • Ann

    We’re going to see how this tendency plays out in California in a couple weeks. With the state deeply in debt we are about to be faced with a referendum on taking out new loans. The purpose is to spread the pain of the budget problems over several years instead of facing them right now. Schwartzenneger is threatening massive service cuts if the proposition fails.

    That is certainly a great reason to vote it down!

    Slash the state government and teach people how easy it is to get along without all the programs.

  • Bombadil

    One reason some people in the US (and perhaps elsewhere) may be reluctant to see certain services cut is that they perceive them as fair compensation for government theft they have endured.

    People who have objected to paying social security taxes all their lives naturally expect to get at least some of their money back when they retire – its their money. Should they just walk away from what they perceive as just compensation for years of theft? But if they are to get something back, it will have to be “stolen” from someone else – since the thieves have long since frittered away their loot.

  • Nick

    California will be an interesting test, but we have already seen voters in Virginia and Oregon reject, on multiple occasions, referendums on new taxes to pay for what politicians thought were “must have” spending. In Oregon, the politicians threatened to cut essential services and the voters still said NO!

  • I’m one who wants back some of the theft.

    But due to the U.S.’s terribly defective medical insurance system, the only way I will avoid becoming a pauper when I retire is Medicare. Not that I haven’t built up lots of assets, but in the U.S., there is no such thing as true medical insurance – at least if you are not employed by a company big enough to supply it, or you are very healthy and stay that way.

    And yeah, I want smaller government. And I know all the libertarian and capitalist arguments and used to expouse them for years on talk.politics.misc. And I no the problems with socialized medicine.

    But little did I know that being an entrepreneur and participating in companies that didn’t have retirement medical plans would leave me in a position where I could never buy medical insurance if I became unemployed.

    So while libertarian theory is really neat and all that, I think I can show that free market capitalism doesn’t work in the private medical insurance market, or if it does, one has to start from scratch. The better that medical records get, and DNA predispositions become understood, the worse a private system will work. Of course, the whole issue is the definition of “work.” I would say “work” means that you can purchase true insurance when young, keep making payments, and never lose it no matter what your job is. The reality is that companies that insure individuals can and do cancel insurance once the costs rise. They have other tricks in states where this is prohibitted.

    Put another way, the market optimizes the management of risk. Which means that many people, who are high risk, not because of their behavior but because of bad luck, will end up with no health care or no money when they get older. Very libertarian, but it will never sell in the market where people use votes as currency.

  • I think I can show that free market capitalism doesn’t work in the private medical insurance market

    Are you actually under the impression that the US has free market capitalism in the medical (or other) insurance market??? I suspect you do not in fact think that judging from your ‘we would have to start from scratch’ remark immediately after.

    That the system does not work well (and in the manner you describe) is certainly true, but part of the problem is that the barriers to entry for providers in this market are so absurdly high (a ‘medical/political complex’). If ever there was a market with strong customer driven incentives, this is it… alas, customer demand and the ability to cater to it, is kept apart by an evil mixture of corporate welfarism and regulatory statism. Big time suckage.

  • John Harrison

    I sincerely hope that Rasmussen people do not decide to conduct any similar kind of research in the UK.

    David, I fear I too would be depressed by the result.
    I am coming to the conclusion that until Samizdata really has captured the ‘zeitgeist’ in the UK, anyone who wants to cut back the State will have to do so by stealth while professing all along that ‘of course front line public services will be protected’

  • DSpears

    A couple of years ago the Republican party went through a wrenching self-discovery in the fact that people in America really DO want more government, whether they say so or not. If you weren’t watching very closely over the last couple of years (I wasn’t whichis why this came to such a shock to me when I saw it said in black and white) the Republicans no longer campaign on smaller government and cutting whole departments. I recently saw a quote recently from the RNC chairman (I forgot his name which shows how active a Republican I am) where he basically said that the idea of smaller government is dead. Their polling had idicated that cutting government was an election loser.

    Gone is the “Contract with America” promise to eliminate the departments of energy (which doesn’t produce any energy), education (which doesn’t educate anybody), and commerce (which doesn’t…well I’m not sure what they are supposed to do). Also gone is the idea of zero-base budgetting, cutting spending and the political damage from spending the American people’s money like drunken sailors, the possibility of future tax cuts may be dead. The Goldwater/Reagan era is officially over.

    All of this puts into jeopardy all of the legitimate things that the federal government should spend money on: National defense and the war on terrorism.

    So who is going to be the party of small government, low taxes, less regulation and liberty insured by the literal interpretation of the Constitution? Whoever that is gets my vote.

    Just to touch on health care: The US has nothing resembling a “free-market” in health care. Socialized medicine is most definitely not the answer, regardless of the system’s shortcomings. The real problem is that it is a 3rd party payer system: The person who recieves the service is not the same person who pays for (at least not explicitly) so their motivations are at odds. The patient looks at medical care as “free” so he wants all he can get, while the insurance company wants to pay as little as possible. The doctors and hospitals are stuck in the middle. It’s an insane system that came about quite by accident.

    The solution is that everybody should pay for their own healthcare, with insurance mitigating the risks of serious and expensive procedures. America pays more than other countries for healthcare because it gets more healthcare than other countries. Ask the thousand sof people who come from Canada each year to get Heart Bypasses and the like because it’s illegal to purchase healthcare in Canada, even if you want to pay for it yourself.

    Medicare, like Social Security is a ticking time bomb. These programs should become what they really are: Welfare programs to act as a safety net when all other options are exhausted. The money you paid in to social security is NOT “yours”, the Supreme Court ruled on that years ago. The money that you paid in to that system is gone, spent on general government expenses. The Social Security “lockbox” isn’t a box and it’s not locked. It’s a file cabinet in an office somewhere in Washington with a bunch of government securities certificates. When those securities need to be redeemed they will come for the same place they went in the first place: General government funds i.e., tax receipts and borrowed money.