Americans divided on role of government

The public is split on the merits of an active government versus a limited government, according to a Gallup survey released Wednesday.

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According to the poll, 34 percent lean toward the “government should take active steps in every area that it can” side of a five-point scale, against 32 percent who fall closer to the “government should provide only the most basic functions.”

Thirty-three percent fall right in the middle of the two.

However, when taxes are thrown into the equation, the public largely prefers a more limited government. According to the survey, 53 percent favor less government involvement if it means a reduction in taxes, against only 13 who said they prefer a more active government if it means higher taxes.

In addition, 55 percent said the government is presently doing too much, against 38 who said the government should do more. Gallup began tracking that question in 1992, and the present figures saying the government is too active are the highest ever seen in the poll.

“Americans couldn't be more divided in their basic preferences for the role of the U.S. government, with roughly one-third favoring an active role for the federal government, one-third favoring a limited role, and one-third something in between,” Gallup Editor-in-Chief Frank Newport wrote.

“At the same time, Americans seem to favor a less active role for the government than is currently the case, perhaps partly due to a desire for lower taxes but also partly due to perceptions that the current government tends to be more on the active side.”

The Gallup survey of 1,510 adults was conducted between Sept. 5 and Sept. 8 and has a 4-percentage-point margin of error.