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After a record high number of Americans said last year that the federal government should do more to solve the nation's problems, a new survey from Gallup finds that most Americans have reverted to thinking the government should have a more limited role.
Last September, when the nation was firmly in the grips of the coronavirus pandemic, with states locked down, businesses closed, and racial unrest dominating headlines, a record-high 54% of U.S. adults surveyed by Gallup said the government should do more to solve problems.
But in the year since then, President Joe Biden took office and started a massive expansion of the federal government's role in the pandemic response. Biden signed a $1.9 trillion coronavirus stimulus bill into law last spring and Democrats are seeking to follow that up with another $1 trillion infrastructure bill and a $3.5 trillion spending bill funding free community college tuition, child care, paid family leave, Medicaid expansion, and Biden's climate agenda.
Additionally, Biden issued a controversial executive order mandating that businesses with more than 100 employees force their workers to get vaccinated against COVID-19 or be tested regularly for the virus.
Now, Gallup finds that 52% of Americans say the government is doing too many things that should be left to individuals and businesses, while 43% say the government needs to do more to solve problems.
Last year's surge in support for big government was driven by Democrats and independents, who opposed how President Donald Trump was handling the coronavirus pandemic. Gallup notes that in times of crisis, Americans tend to favor more government action, as seen in a surge of trust in government after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
However, "all party groups are less likely now than a year ago to favor a more active government role," Gallup finds, with the largest shift in opinion happening among independents.
In 2020, 56% of independents said they favored a more expansive role for government compared with just 38% now. In fact, independents have reacted so negatively to government action over the last year that fewer independents today support a more active government role today than before the pandemic in 2019, when 45% wanted bigger government.
Asked about the trade-off between taxes and government services, half of Americans say they prefer fewer government services and lower taxes, while only 19% want increased taxes and more services. Twenty-nine percent of survey respondents said taxes and services should remain where they are now.
Majorities of Republicans and independents say they prefer lower taxes and fewer services, while Democrats are split between increasing both (37%) and keeping taxes and services where they are (40%). Nineteen percent of Democrats actually said they want lower taxes and fewer services.
A plurality of 43% of Americans say there is too much government regulation of businesses, which is an increase of 7 percentage points from 2020, when only 36% said there was too much regulation. That change is consistent with the last time the presidency change hands from the Republican Party to the Democrats.
"Spanning the transition from Republican George W. Bush to Democrat Barack Obama between 2008 and 2009, the percentage saying there was too much government regulation also increased seven points, from 38% to 45%," Gallup notes.
"The COVID-19 situation and the Trump administration's response to it in 2020 may have briefly changed Americans' views on the proper government role, but whatever effect it had has now disappeared," Gallup concludes, observing that the reversal in opinions on the role of government may reflect a return to normal attitudes following a time of crisis.
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