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24 Sep, 2013

Gallup Poll: Americans’ Belief That Gov’t Is Too Powerful at Record Level

by Joy Wilke

PRINCETON, NJ, (Gallup Polls) September 23, 2013 — Six in 10 Americans (60%) believe the federal government has too much power, one percentage point above the previous high recorded in September 2010. At least half of Americans since 2005 have said the government has too much power. Thirty-two percent now say the government has the right amount of power. Few say it has too little power.

Trend: Americans' Perceptions of Governmental Power

These most recent data come from Gallup’s Governance survey, conducted Sept. 5-8. The 7% who feel the government has too little power has been mostly steady since Gallup started tracking the measure regularly in 2002.

Republicans and Democrats Divided on Views of Government

This new high encompasses Republicans (81%), who are now more likely than at any time since 2002 to say the government has too much power, and Democrats (38%), who now are more likely to say this than at any time since President Barack Obama took office in 2009.

Republicans, Democrats, and independents have each grown more likely to say government is too powerful this year. 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% and 35%, respectively, with independents, at 45%, most likely to say this.

As the George W. Bush era continued, both Republicans and Democrats began to report higher levels of unease with the amount of power the federal government held. Between 2004 and 2007, the gap between the parties ranged from seven to 17 percentage points, with Democrats more likely than Republicans to say the government had too much power.

During the 2008 presidential race, about half of Republicans and Democrats held this view. By September 2009, however, views became much more polarized: 25% of Democrats were concerned with the government’s power, compared with 78% of Republicans. Since that low point, Democrats have become more likely to view the government as too powerful, with 38% this year saying so — for a gap of 43 points between the parties.

Do you think the federal government today -- [ROTATED: has too much power, has about the right amount of power, or has too little power]? Views by party


Americans — specifically Republicans and Democrats — have become more divided in their perceptions of federal power since the end of the Bush administration. Within a year of Obama’s inauguration, Republicans’ and Democrats’ views on the issue diverged dramatically, leaving a gulf between the parties that remains today — though the current 43-point partisan gap is smaller than the 53-point gap measured in the fall of 2009.

A gulf between Democrats and Republicans on this measure is not unexpected, given the differences in Democrats’ and Republicans’ views on the role of government, as well as the level of comfort partisans feel while their party is in office. Though Republicans tend to be more skeptical of government overall, this concern was tempered while President Bush was in office. However, Republicans’ concern reached new highs when Obama took office in 2009.

On the other hand, though Democrats tend to be more comfortable with a more active government, more than half became concerned with the U.S. government’s power toward the end of the Bush years. The presence of a Democratic president in office likely leads Republicans to feel especially skeptical of — and Democrats especially comfortable with — the amount of power the federal government holds, leading to the large gap between the parties seen during Obama’s presidency.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Sept. 5-8, 2013, on the Gallup Daily tracking survey, with a random sample of 1,510 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

For results based on the total sample of Democrats, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points.

For results based on the total sample of Republicans, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±5 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by region. Landline and cell telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted to correct for unequal selection probability, nonresponse, and double coverage of landline and cell users in the two sampling frames. They are also weighted to match the national demographics of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, population density, and phone status (cellphone only/landline only/both, and cellphone mostly). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2012 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population. Phone status targets are based on the July-December 2011 National Health Interview Survey. Population density targets are based on the 2010 census. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

View methodology, full question results, and trend data.