Do Americans want more government, or less? That depends on which party you ask … and who’s in the White House. (More)
“The defining issue of our time.”
Yesterday we took a broad look at the 2012 American Values Survey published by the Pew Research Center for People and the Press. Today we’ll dig deeper into the central issue of the 2012 election. From his “make or break moment for the middle class” speech in Osawatomie, Kansas last December to his description of the House Republican budget as “thinly-veiled social Darwinism” in April, President Obama has sought to make the 2012 election about what he has called “the defining issue of our time” – government’s role in enabling our economy and protecting our most vulnerable.
[President Obama] wants another stimulus, he wants to hire more government workers. He says we need more fireman, more policeman, more teachers. Did he not get the message of Wisconsin? The American people did. It’s time for us to cut back on government and help the American people.
So there you have it. President Obama and Democrats want government to do more, while Mitt Romney and Republicans want government to do less. Sort of.
“We’re all Keynesians during Republican administrations.”
Halperin: I want to get to a lot of those, and let’s go to spending, which is a big thing for you, one of the bases of comparison – you say you’d cut spending a lot more than the President has.[...] You have a plan, as you said, over a number of years, to reduce spending dramatically. Why not in the first year, if you’re elected — why not in 2013, go all the way and propose the kind of budget with spending restraints, that you’d like to see after four years in office? Why not do it more quickly?
Romney: Well because, if you take a trillion dollars for instance, out of the first year of the federal budget, that would shrink GDP over 5%. That is by definition throwing us into recession or depression. So I’m not going to do that, of course.[...]
The Washington Post‘s Ezra Klein reached the same conclusion on Monday in making The Keynesian Case for Romney. In his follow-up on Tuesday, Klein ranked the four possible President/Congress combinations in order of how likely each was to pass federal spending to stimulate the economy – (1) Obama/Democrats; (2) Romney/Republicans; (3) Romney/Democrats; (4) Obama/Republicans – Klein added:
I think the only choice on that list that’s even mildly controversial is ranking Romney and a divided Congress above Obama and a divided Congress. But Romney clearly understands and agrees with the need for short-term Keynesian budgeting, and as Jon Chait has written, “Democrats don’t have any history of opportunistically abandoning Keynesian economics when the other party’s neck is on the economic line.”
Congressional Republicans, meanwhile, do have a history of opportunistically abandoning Keynesian economics when the other party’s neck is on the economic line.[...]
And it’s not just Romney. After calling Affordable Care Act “socialism” – although it was almost the same bill Republicans proposed in 1993 – Republicans in Congress are now wondering how to preserve its most popular provisions. As a Florida Democrat told me last week: “Republicans would be fine with ObamaCare … without the Obama.”
What about the Tea Party?
Okay, sure, Mitt Romney may recognize the need for stimulus spending to get the economy moving, and Republicans in Congress may want to keep the ACA’s popular provisions. But won’t the Tea Party erupt in betrayed outrage?
Maybe not, depending on how you interpret data from Pew Research Center’s interactive database for the 2012 American Values Survey:
- Question 30L: “The federal government controls too much of our daily lives.” An average 68% of Republicans agreed from 1993-1999, dropping to 56% from 2002-2007, rising to 75% since 2009.
- Question 30K: “When something is run by the government, it is usually inefficient and wasteful.” An average 70% of Republicans agreed from 1993-1999, dropping to 60% during from 2002-2007, rising to 77% since 2009.
- Question 30M: “The government is really run for the benefit of all the people.” A majority of Republicans disagreed from 1993-1999, agreed from 2002-2007, and have disagreed since 2009.
- Question 30I: “Government regulation of business usually does more harm than good.” An average 67% of Republicans agreed from 1993-1999, dropping to 58% from 2002-2007, rising to 76% since 2009.
- Question 40EE: “I am concerned that the government is collecting too much information about people like me.” Only 44% of Republicans agreed when that was first asked in 2003, dipping to 39% in 2007. In 2012 it jumped to 72%.
While Democrats were also more worried about the role of government during the Bush years, the changes are not as dramatic. Taken as a whole, the Pew Research data suggest Frum and Klein are correct. Grover Norquist and Tea Party diehards may want to shrink government no matter what, but many other Republicans are okay with “Big Government” … so long as they’re running it.
Progressive Democratic activists need to emphasize that point when talking with moderate voters like archetypal Fred. The choice between the parties is often framed as “Republican vs. Republican Lite.” But the reality is the opposite. Democrats know we need good government. Republicans think government is only good if they’re in charge.