Fear of Government: A Chart


An unsurprising graph from Gallup:

The top of the box doubles as the trend line for members of the Libertarian Party.

Paul Waldman of the liberal American Prospect responds by zeroing in on the Republican line:

The next time you get an urge to say that the country is gripped by a belief that government is dangerously out of control and that it's threatening our freedom, remind yourself that the country is not in fact gripped by those beliefs. Republicans are gripped by those beliefs, and the fact that they're yelling them very loudly doesn't mean they're shared by everyone else.

Will Wilkinson reacts:

This is fair enough, I suppose. But it would be equally fair to note that Democrats are "gripped" by similarly impugnable beliefs. The advent of the Obama era has evidently put Democratic minds at ease. But why? Is government now, as a matter of fact, less of a threat to American citizens? President Obama seems no better than George Bush on those issues that presumably led a majority of Democrats to view Washington as a threat. Indeed, the continuity between the Obama and Bush administrations on these issues is so complete, it would be misleading to characterise Mr Obama as "Bush light". Mr Obama's stance on civil liberties and executive power amount to a vigorous affirmation of the very policies he openly deplored during the campaign. He has, for example, asserted the authority to order the assassination of American citizens, which seems pretty threatening to me. The fact that the Obama administration is deporting record numbers of undocumented immigrants may not seem a threat to citizens, but it is. And as we noted the other day, the Obama Department of Justice has directly threatened to arrest and imprison Californians who buy and sell marijuana, whether or not California voters choose to make it legal in their state.

Mr Waldman is right to suggest that today's Republican alarm and Democratic light-heartedness are partisan phenomena. But one is no sillier than the other. The majority of Democrats who saw government as a threat in 2007 were right to do so, and nothing truly significant has changed since then.

I disagree with Wilkinson on one point: I think one is sillier than the other. Even if it's mostly for partisan reasons, the Republicans at least are moving in the right direction. For now.

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  1. That chart should embarass both sides. You have to be amazingly unself aware not to realize that.

    1. “”That chart should embarass both sides.””

      I would like to think that. But people are engaged in the us vs them game. They enjoy it. I’m guessing they are more proud than embarresed by the chart.

      1. It pretty much confirms my view that most Americans would support an unchecked dictatorship as long as the despot in charge is from their political affiliation.

    2. the most embarassing thing is: why did gallup lapse in taking this data for three years?

      1. Nope, their poor data collection methodology is pretty bad, but connecting the dots when you plot the data is definitely worse.

        They know that their data doesn’t capture the time scale of changes, and being pros at this business they know better than to draw lines between the points. So why do they do it?

  2. nothing truly significant has changed since then

    Sure it has. TEAM BLUE has their guy in charge now, so they’re not worried, no matter what he does, and TEAM RED is worried. Go back to when TEAM RED was in charge and I bet you could flip that graph like a coin and have it still be perfectly accurate.

    1. I agree.

    2. It’s that 2008/2009 twist on the graph.

      1. It’s like the graph got put in a mirror.

        1. The Rs started fearing when the Ds took Congress in 2006. The Ds started fearing less at that time.

          1. We really can’t say that because the question wasn’t asked between September 2006 and September 2010. A data point in September 2008 would be very interesting in terms of determining when the switch actually occurred.

  3. Interestingly enough (as in “not surprising at all!”), the “fear of government” strikes people according to whom resides in the dictator’s seat. When Republirats, Repubs feel cozy inside, but not Dems. When the Dem-agogues, it’s the other way around.

    INDEPENDENTS, however, maintain a consistent fear of government power… Or maybe fearful Dems go independent when Republirats are in power and then people switch seats when the Dem-agogues are in power…

  4. Lefties gasp with astonishment and indignation whenever a citizen questions the nature of government. To Democrats and other “progressives,” Big Government has replaced God as their deity. To question Its authority is sinful, if not a clear sign of insanity.

    1. Re: Ace of Clubs,

      When I was discussing the role of government when Bush was in power, Repubs were just as chauvinistic about gov’s role as leftists are now. BOTH sides are just as enamoured of fascism, except one side likes chocolate/vanilla and the other side likes vanilla/chocolate.

      (For the record, I like Rocky Road. Yes, I am a rebel.)

      1. Hell yeah to the Rocky Road. I love it. Now if they make a flavor called Gridlock perhaps I would like that too.

      2. Chocolate chip mint.

        1. Mint chocolate chip.

          1. Splitter!

      3. The dessert analogy is actually pretty fun! One side of the duopoly likes chocolate, the other side likes vanilla, most libertarians prefer a bowl of fruit and anarchists question whether we really even need to have dessert in the first place.

        1. I want cake. Which I will eat, and do not insist on later having, too.

      4. Ace of Clubs? I call that the lucky testicles.

  5. The advent of the Obama era has evidently put Democratic minds at ease. But why? Is government now, as a matter of fact, less of a threat to American citizens?

    “It’s because the right man is now in power, man!”

  6. Yeah, this is off-topic, but Obama is one piece of shit human being. At the same time he’s blaming Bush for all of his own problems, he’s lying about 50,000 green jobs he claims to have created, which were actually created before he became president.

    WASHINGTON ? The Obama administration is crediting its anti-recession stimulus plan with creating up to 50,000 jobs on dozens of wind farms, even though many of those wind farms were built before the stimulus money began to flow or even before President Barack Obama was inaugurated.

    Out of 70 major wind farms that received the $4.4 billion in federal energy grants through the stimulus program, public records show that 11, which received a total of $600 million, erected their wind towers during the Bush administration. And a total of 19 wind farms, which received $1.3 billion, were built before any of the stimulus money was distributed. ( See a list of the projects here.)

    Yet all the jobs at these wind farms are counted in the administration’s figures for jobs created by the stimulus.


    1. 50k jobs at 70 farms implies 700 jobs per farm, which sounds high to me.

      By comparison, this snarky comment created or saved 17 jobs.

  7. That there was a time when only 21% of Republicans felt government was an immediate threat is downright scary. No wonder Bush got away with spending everything but the kitchen sink.

    1. And during his second term when they should have known better.

      1. Yeah 21% in 2006 just shows how out-of-touch Republicans were at that point. There were only like 3 Republicans that said “our party has completely lost it’s way, and this is the result” after the midterm elections. It’s also why I have no faith that they will remain true to their small-government rhetoric once they regain political power.

        1. You obviously weren’t reading right wing blogs back then. There were plenty of us complaining amongst our own about the way things were going. A large part of why you only heard support for Bush from right wingers back then was the massive hate coming from the left that many felt a need to defend against, even if some of the vitriol was justified. After all, even with as bad as republicans can be, we fear that democrats can be much, much worse.

          1. “”A large part of why you only heard support for Bush from right wingers back then was the massive hate coming from the left that many felt a need to defend against, even if some of the vitriol was justified.””

            Defending even if against, just because the other team complains. IOW, can’t agree with the dems in public, even when they are right. Can’t let them dems have a legit argument even when it’s true.

  8. Re: The Gobbler,

    The Obama administration is crediting its anti-recession stimulus plan with creating up to 50,000 jobs on dozens of wind farms, even though many of those wind farms were built before the stimulus money began to flow or even before President Barack Obama was inaugurated.

    In Mexican politics, taking credit for something you did not do is said as “Hacer caravana con sombrero ajeno”, translation: Taking a bow with someone else’s hat.

    Obama likes to take bows with someone else’s hat.

    1. Christ I wish you would just speak English, OM. WHY CAN’T YOU ASSIMILATE???

    2. That would literally translate to “making a bow with someone else’s hat”, which makes much more sense than “taking…”. Why would anyone want to “take a shit”?

  9. Shorter: People who consider themselves part of Team Red! or Team Blue! like it when their team is in charge, and don’t give a shit about anything else.

    Nowhere is this more shamefully evident than in the lack of anti-war protests. 3 years ago we saw protests all the time. Now, nothing has changed but the guy in the suit, and nobody protests. It’s sickening to see people’s loyalty to a political party trump their personal convictions.

    1. So I went ahead and crunched the numbers. When you add up registered voters by party affiliation and multiply each segment by the % shown on the chart you get 72 million that fear government now as opposed to 73.6 million back at the high point for Dems on the graph. It shows 2 things in my opinion.

      1. Party affiliates are unprincipled.

      2. Out of likely voters 57-59% of them are fearful of government at any given time.

      Sorry Waldman, but that’s a majority of voters that always fear government.

      1. Huh. Between the Rasmussen poll yesterday, and your numbers, it appears a majority of American voters agree with me on 2 points. That’s never happened before, and frankly, it unnerves me.

        1. The problem is that when you weed out the partisan hacks, basically everyone above 21% on team red and blue that really only leave 35% of likely voters that are fearful for possibly similar reasons. Or just that 35% of voters are less of hypocritical douchebags than the other 65%.

  10. It is worth going back to the originating Gallup post. The question only goes back to 2003 (a shame), but this year they also asked specifically what people were afraid of exactly.

    The list:
    Too many laws/Govn’t too big (18%)
    Too much involvement in people’s private lives (17%)
    Taking away freedom of speech/ 1st Amdnt rights (15%)
    Healthcare law (11%)
    Socialist govn’t (8%)
    Overtaxing/Taxes too high (7%)
    Taking away freedom of religion (6%)
    Gun control/ 2nd Amdn’t. rights (6%)
    Failure to secure borders/illegal immigration (3%)
    Overregulation/Involvement in business (3%)
    Too much spending (3%)
    Marriage issue (2%)
    + some no responses and such

    I think this will be a great list to follow in coming years. I find the bottom of the list encouraging and discouraging at the same time. And I’d be pleased with the 1st amendment’s showing except I think a lot of people talk about the 1st amendment without actually understanding it.

    Also fun to look at? The satisfaction with the state of the nation results plotted by party through late 2008 and early 2009.

    1. I truly, truly have to wonder: only now, in the last 3 or so years, has the government grown too big and too involved in our lives? And 11% list their top fear as ObamaCare?

      I mean, nevermind continuing detention of American citizens without trial, or even killing Americans without any judicial review and calling it “state secrets.

      No, what’s really scary is ObamaCare. Oh, and all those new laws that had nothing to do with eight years of the Bush administration, along with Obama pushing that one down the line.

      All. very recent.

      (And all A-OK as long as it’s one of your guys in charge!)

      I hate this country so very, very much sometimes.

      1. In the mind of the average American, only terrorists and criminals have to worry about extra-judicial and extra-legal action. And you’re not a terrorist or a criminal are you?

      2. This is why the list is worth following. Will a Republican triumph in Congress immediately allay fears about “the healthcare law”, even if the Congressites do nothing to change it?

  11. I think the Independents should be higher no matter the year. Maybe the question was phrased a certain way or too many people don’t give a shit at all so they count as unafraid.

    1. From the Gallup site:

      “Do you think the federal government poses an immediae threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens, or not?”

  12. It shows that republicans are more fearful of a D administration that a democrat is of an R admin. Both fear little when their own is in power.

    I think the Rs put much stock in fear as talking points and as a motivator.

    1. True, but there are more registered Dems than Reps and when you take that into account more actual people in the Dem party are fearful of Gov when the elephant is “in charge”

    2. “I think the Rs put much stock in fear as talking points and as a motivator.”

      You’ve never watched MSNBC, have you.

      1. “”You’ve never watched MSNBC, have you.””

        I try to stay away from the 24 hour news channels. I don’t care what anchors, quasi-anchors say. I’m talking about the people in power. Get back to me when Ds start talking about mushroom clouds if we don’t act.

      2. How much MSNBC do you watch?

  13. “The other team is in charge, now; I think they’re going to fuck me. When we were in charge, we did our damnedest to fuck them.”

  14. I’m just amazed at the worldview that can look at this chart demonstrating partisan blindness… and then say, “Look, only the Republicans have this problem!”

    Of course, when you simply start with the premise that Ds are good and Rs evil, it does sort of follow.

    1. Who’s saying that? The chart clearly shows it’s a bi-partisan problem.

      1. Paul Waldman, apparently.

      2. Um, “Paul Waldman of the liberal American Prospect,” that’s who. Did you read the post?

        1. So he did, but his comment is about now, not the complete chart, nor history. In that light, he’s correct. If you hear someone today say the counrty is in fear, it’s largely republicans. Independents haven’t really changed and dems are less fearful. Of course it hasn’t always been, nor always will be that way.

          I was more interested in who makes up the “worldview” other than Waldman.

          1. Other partisans, on both sides, naturally. It follows from their premise that their side’s fear is justified, but that the other’s is crazy.

  15. alt-text FTW! good on ya, Jesse.

  16. So, they don’t have any information between 2006 and 2010?

  17. 50k jobs at 70 farms implies 700 jobs per farm, which sounds high to me.

    I live in wind farm country, and I can tell you that is crazy high. I’ve been told the staff needed for an operating wind farm, and I think its something like one or two FTEs per 10 towers. If the average windfarm has 100 towers (which is probably high), that means more like 10 permanent jobs per farm, or 700 jobs, not 50,000.

    They may also be counting the construction jobs, but it doesn’t take tens of thousands of workers to put up wind farms. More like a couple hundred per farm.

    1. But it took like 17,000 lawyers to do all the necessary environmental impact work and ensure OSHA-compliance.

      1. For the win.

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