Tag: pew research center

The People Still Want Smaller Government

Most of the headlines about the large new Pew Research Center survey (6,000 interviews) have focused on the continuing decline in Americans’ trust in government, as depicted in the chart below.

Trust in government Pew

But the survey also asks one of my favorite questions:

If you had to choose, would you rather have a smaller government providing fewer services, or a bigger government providing more services?

As shown in the chart below, the number preferring smaller government rose to its highest point during the 1990s, then reached a low point as President Obama was elected in 2008, and has been rising since then. In the latest survey 53 percent of Americans say they prefer a smaller government, while only 38 percent would rather have a bigger government with more services.

But as I’ve written before, I’ve always thought the “smaller government” question is incomplete. It offers respondents a benefit of bigger government–”more services”–but it doesn’t mention that the cost of “bigger government providing more services” is higher taxes. The question ought to give both the cost and the benefit for each option. The Rasmussen poll does often ask the question that way. In one poll about a decade ago, Rasmussen found that 64 percent of voters said that they prefer smaller government with fewer services and lower taxes, while only 22 percent would rather see a more active government with more services and higher taxes. A similar poll around the same time, without the information on taxes, found a margin of 59 to 26 percent. So it’s reasonable to conclude that if you remind respondents that “more services” means higher taxes, the margin by which people prefer smaller government rises by about 9 points. So maybe the margin in this poll would have been something like 58 to 34 if both sides of the question had been presented.

For now, when voters are given only the benefits and not the costs of bigger government, Pew and other pollsters find these results:

Views of smaller government

One-third of College Degrees Wasted?

The most recent, comprehensive Pew higher education survey has gotten a lot of coverage for its findings on how important the public thinks college is, its financial payoff for grads, etc. For some reason, though, by far the most interesting statistic in the report has gotten roughly zero play, either from Pew itself or media coverage of the report: “Among all college graduates, 33% say they are in a job that does not require a college degree.”

Wait. One-third of all college graduates are in jobs that don’t call for a college education? So one-third of all college degrees are quite possibly total economic wastes? (To be fair, no doubt some of those grads are looking for jobs requiring a degree, mitigating this somewhat. On the flip side, many jobs probably require a degree without actually requiring college-level skills, counterbalancing that.)

In light of this, can someone please tell me why President Obama wants the United States to lead the world in the precentage of its population with a college degree by 2020? And please, explain why Washington furnished over $113 billion in student aid in the 2009-10 academic year? I’d really like to know.

New Polls Show Support for Civil Liberties

At the Britannica Blog I write:

Many commentators have seen a shift to the right in American politics over the past two years — the reaction to spending, bailouts, and Obamacare; the rise in conservative self-identification in polls; the 2010 elections. But there’s another trend going on as well. I described it in 2009 as a “civil liberties surge.” And this week there’s new evidence.

A new study from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press finds long-term growth in support for legal abortion, gun rights, marijuana legalization, and gay marriage.

The graphs on all these topics from Pew are pretty impressive, as is another one from the General Social Survey included in the Britannica post. I go on to note:

These new poll results should be no surprise. Part of the American project for more than 200 years has been extending the promises of the Declaration of Independence — life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness — to more and more people. America is a country fundamentally shaped by libertarian values and attitudes. In their book It Didn’t Happen Here: Why Socialism Failed in the United States, Seymour Martin Lipset and Gary Marx write, “The American ideology, stemming from the [American] Revolution, can be subsumed in five words: antistatism, laissez-faire, individualism, populism, and egalitarianism.” If Herbert McClosky and John Zaller are right that “[t]he principle here is that every person is free to act as he pleases, so long as his exercise of freedom does not violate the equal rights of others,” then marriage equality and marijuana freedom are only a matter of time.

And none of these socially liberal results challenge the general perception of a conservative trend, as long as that trend is understood as a reaction to bailouts, takeovers, and other elements of “big government.” Americans continue to tell pollsters they prefer “smaller government with fewer services” to “larger government with more services.”