Poll: Most American Think the Federal Government Has Too Much Power

A poll finds that Americans believe Washington should be doing less.

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The Founding Fathers deliberately set up a system of government that relies on the tension of preserving a series of checks and balances that are vital to its success.

Over time, some of this tension have eroded, particularly where the general power of the federal government is concerned. All too often, Washington imposes mandates and regulations on private activity that many believe would be better left to states and communities to address.

A new survey by pollster Scott Rasmussen shows the American people may be ready to see the previous balance restored. According to the numbers, 50 percent of U.S. likely voters believe the federal government "has too much influence" over state and local officials. [See an opinion slide show of 10 wasteful stimulus projects.]

"Americans overall," Rasmussen said, "tend to trust governments closer to home rather than the federal government and worry that the team in D.C. has too much influence over state governments. However, Democrats and those who are politically liberal take an entirely different view."

The partisan divide on the question is interesting.  According to the survey, "75 percent of Republicans believe the federal government has too much power over the states while a plurality of Democrats (37 percent) believe the balance is about right. Among those not affiliated with either major party, 52 percent say the federal government has too much influence while 9 percent say not enough."

These numbers reflect, generally, the approaches the two parties take to governance, with the GOP calling for more local control of major issues while the Democrats preferring to run everything through Washington.

"The dynamics are similar on the question of which branch of government does best" Rasmussen said. "A solid plurality of Republicans and unaffiliated voters point to local governments with very little support for the federal government. Among Democrats, 27 percent say the federal government does the best job, 18 percent say local governments, and 16 percent name state governments. However, 38 percent of Democrats are not sure on this question." [Check out our editorial cartoons on the Democratic Party.]

This may explain, for example, why Rep. Michele Bachmann, Rep. Ron Paul, and Texas Gov. Rick Perry are doing so well in the polls right now—especially against Barack Obama. While the president seems to prefer Washington-based solutions to the nation’s economic and social ills, Bachmann, Paul, and Perry in particular are running explicitly anti-Washington campaigns for the GOP presidential nomination. By repeating and reinforcing Ronald Reagan’s argument that the federal government is too big and it spends too much they are tapping into a natural constituency of Republicans, independents and even some Democrats who want to see the states and localities do more—or at least see Washington do less. 

  • See a photo gallery of Ronald Reagan.
  • Vote now: Will Obama be a one-term president?
  • See photos of the GOP hopefuls on the campaign trail.