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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Public Supports ‘Activist Government’

Conservatives hoping to get traction from the “Obama’s government activism is bad” meme are not going to like Alan I. Abramowitz’s latest column at Larry J. Sabato’s Crystal Ball. In his column “Who’s Afraid of Big Government? Not Us,” Abramowitz explains:

Do Americans, despite the current economic crisis, continue to oppose governmental activism and prefer reliance on the free market to solve the country’s problems as the President’s conservative critics argue? Some of these critics have selectively cited results from recent media polls to support this claim. However, this conclusion is not supported by the best available evidence about attitudes toward the role of government in the American public-evidence that comes from the 2008 American National Election Study.
The 2008 ANES is the most recent in a series of election surveys that have been conducted in every presidential election year and most midterm election years since 1948. These surveys have provided much of the data used by political scientists to study elections and voting behavior in the United States. The 2008 survey involved in-depth personal interviews with a representative sample of more than 2000 eligible voters touching on a wide variety of issues and other election-related topics. Among the questions included in the survey were three that dealt directly with the role of government. Each question asked respondents to choose between a pair of statements about the proper role of government in dealing with the nation’s problems.

Among the findings of the survey, Abramowitz notes,

…A majority of Americans came down on the side of governmental activism. Fifty-six percent said that government had gotten bigger because the country’s problems had gotten bigger, 68 percent said that we need a strong government to handle complex economic problems, and 59 percent said that there were more things government should be doing.
…64 percent of eligible voters came down on the activist side of the scale and almost 40 percent were consistent supporters of activist government. In contrast, less than 20 percent of eligible voters were consistent opponents of activist government. These findings clearly contradict the claims of conservative pundits that Americans today have more faith in the free market than in government programs for dealing with the country’s problems. They indicate that support for activist government is alive and well in the American public.

Interestingly, most of the respondents made a distinction between government activism in addressing economic issues and “intrusion into the personal lives of Americans,” as Abramowitz explains:

…According to the data from the 2008 ANES, support for government regulation of personal conduct was associated with opposition to government intervention in the economic sphere. For example, 80 percent of respondents who consistently opposed governmental activism wanted to maintain a government ban on same sex marriage while only 53 percent of respondents who consistently supported governmental activism wanted to maintain the ban.

Abramowitz concludes that President Obama is in synch with the views of a majority of voters on the topic of ‘government activism.”

…Fully 80 percent of Obama voters came down on the pro-government side of the governmental activism scale and over 50 percent consistently took the pro-government side. It remains to be seen whether the President will succeed in convincing Congress to enact his policy agenda and whether those policies will actually work. However, in proposing to use the power of the federal government to address the nation’s problems, Mr. Obama is clearly doing what a majority of Americans voted for in 2008.

Clearly, after 8 years of impotent government and corporate looting of taxpayers financial assets, “activist government” to serve the interests of working people, for a change, doesn’t sound like such a bad idea to most voters.

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