President Obama vs. the People on Smaller Government

Writers in the establishment media, such as E. J. Dionne Jr., Ezra Klein, and indeed two letters in today’s Washington Post, keep insisting that President Obama is moderate or centrist, contrary to the claims of us hysterics who think that a trillion-dollar increase in annual spending, $4 trillion in new debt, a government takeover of two automobile companies, a complete government takeover of health care (which the president preferred but couldn’t get out of Congress), and sweeping new financial regulation that doesn’t reform the easy-money and housing-preference policies that caused the financial crisis is a pretty statist agenda.

But it looks like the American people see a big gap between the kind of government they want and the kind they think President Obama wants.

A new Washington Post-ABC News poll finds that

there has been little change in the widespread public perception that Obama favors a bigger federal government that offers more services.

That highlights a major disconnect between Obama and the public. Only 38 percent of those polled say they favor a larger government with more services, while 56 percent say they favor a smaller government with fewer services.

As depicted in this graphic:

Voters understand that President Obama favors larger government. Duh. And they don’t.

As I’ve noted previously, I’ve always thought the “smaller government” question is incomplete. It offers respondents a benefit of larger government — “more services” — but it doesn’t mention that the cost of “larger government with more services” is higher taxes. The question ought to give both the cost and the benefit for each option. The Rasmussen poll does ask the question that way, and found a week ago that voters preferred “smaller government with fewer services and lower taxes” by a margin of 62 to 28 percent.

I know some people are skeptical of Rasmussen’s polling. (A Republican consulting firm recently found results very similar to the Rasmussen poll.) So I invite Gallup, Harris, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and other pollsters to ask this more balanced question and see what results they get.

Meanwhile, only 38 percent of Americans want “larger government with more services,” but 70 percent think President Obama does. There’s a number that ought to worry Democratic strategists.