When Gallup first began asking the question in 1965 only 35 percent of Americans said “big government” would be the biggest threat to the country in the future. Since then, that number has soared to 72 percent in Gallup’s most recent poll. In stark contrast, only 21 percent say “big business” is the greatest threat to the nation’s future.
The prior record for “big government” was 65 percent in 1999, but concern receded in the early 2000s in the wake of 9/11. However, since 2009 with bailouts, stimulus spending, quantitative easing, NSA spying, IRS targeting, AP wiretapping, and probably most importantly the Affordable Care Act, concern has skyrocketed more than 20 points to 72 percent.
Particularly surprising is that even a majority of Democrats (56 percent) agree that “big government” poses the greatest threat to the nation’s future, even during the tenure of an incumbent Democratic president. Nevertheless, substantially more Republicans (92 percent) and independents (71) are concerned about the expanding scope of government power. Significant differences in partisan perception were not always common in American politics, particularly during the Johnson, Nixon, Carter, and Reagan administrations. Major differences emerged between 1986 and 2000, and then again after 2005.
Today, only 21 percent of Americans perceive “big business” as the biggest threat. While anxiety about corporations has fluctuated over the past 50 years, Americans have consistently remained more concerned about government power.
In the wake of corporate scandals in the early 2000s and government’s response to the 9/11 attacks, anxiety over business and governmental power coalesced. In 2002 38 percent of Americans were most concerned about big business compared to 47 percent who were concerned about government.
These data suggest that public worry over governmental power will continue to fluctuate but will likely continue to rise. Not only that, but the public will continue to identify government, not corporations, as the country’s biggest threat.
Read more about Gallup’s poll here.