How Conservative Are Americans Becoming About Government?

There’s no question that Americans are unsatisfied with the way things are going in the country today. According to conservatives, this has led the public to take a sharp right turn toward embracing conservative ideology about government. But several recent poll findings suggest this claim is vastly exaggerated.

Just 37 percent of respondents in a recent CBS/New York Times poll said they believe President Barack Obama has expanded the role of the government “too much” in trying to solve the country’s economic problems. The others said either “about right” (34 percent) or “not enough” (22 percent). This hardly sounds like a conservative tidal wave.

graph showing results of CBS/New York Times poll

Another finding comes from a recent Allstate/National Journal/Heartland poll, which asked people directly about their views of the proper role of government in the economy. Just 35 percent said they subscribe to the fundamental conservative ideological position on government that “government is not the solution to our economic problems, government is the problem.” Another 28 percent said that government must play an active role in regulation and ensuring that the economy benefits “people like me.” And 33 percent said they would like to see government play an active role in the economy to benefit people like themselves, but they were not sure that they could trust the government to be effective in doing so.

graph showing results of Allstate/National Journal/Heartland poll

The conclusion is clear. The American public’s dissatisfaction with government is primarily performance-based and does not reflect a sudden ideological conversion to the conservative cause, no matter what conservative pundits and politicians say.

Ruy Teixeira is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. To learn more about his public opinion analysis go to the Media and Progressive Values page and the Progressive Studies program page of our website.