“In this present crisis,” Ronald Reagan said at his inauguration, “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” But it took Barack Obama to get the public to believe it.
A new Gallup poll finds that the public ranks “government” as the top problem facing America today. They put it above the economy, above unemployment, and way above immigration.
When Obama took office in 2009, government ranked fourth on the list of problems, but it has moved up steadily and has held the top spot for two years now. Government wasn’t even on the list of problems in George W. Bush’s last year in office.
Gallup’s data show that the share who rank government as their top concern climbed from 7% when Obama was sworn in to 16% in 2015.
In another sign of growing public disatisfaction, our IBD/TIPP poll finds that 61% of Americans say they’d prefer a smaller government and fewer services to a bigger government with more services. Among independents, 68% feel that way. Only Democrats who want more government.
And according to another Gallup tracking survey , just 38% say they trust the government to handle domestic problems. That’s down from 51% when Obama took office. Only 45% now trust the government to handle foreign policy problems, down from 62% in Obama’s first year.
Trust in state governments, in contrast, is higher than it was in 2009.
Pew Research Center surveys find trust in government has hit record lows under Obama, while 62% say they are frustrated with the federal government. (Trust in government actually rose under Reagan, and under Bill “The Era Of Big Government Is Over” Clinton.)
How can this be? Obama has spent his entire public life praising the power of government as a force for good in the country, while belittling and mocking those who dared to call for smaller government, lower taxes and less regulation.
And during his time in the White House, Obama has undertaken one of the largest expansions in the size and scope of government in modern times. From ObamaCare, Dodd-Frank, an unchained EPA, myriad executive orders and many tax hikes, the federal leviathan is more deeply involved in Americans’ lives than ever.
At every step of the way, Obama assured the public these interventions were the solution to the big problems the nation faced — the solution to health care costs and insurance gaps, the solution to the financial crisis, the solution to saving the planet and the solution to income inequality.
So why has the public so decisively turned against government? Perhaps because they’ve been front-row witnesses to the results — a historically weak economic recovery, stagnant wages, higher health insurance costs, more civil unrest, incompetence at every level and a complete lack of accountability when things go terribly wrong.
For those who favor the federal government, this evidence presents an interesting Catch-22: If you want people to like big government, you might have to support a president who vows to gut it.