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America’s Schizophrenic Views Toward the Nanny State

In a recent Pew Research Center poll, we’re told:

Even as public views of the federal government in Washington have fallen to another new low, the public continues to see their state and local governments in a favorable light. Overall, 63% say they have a favorable opinion of their local government, virtually unchanged over recent years. And 57% express a favorable view of their state government – a five-point uptick from last year. By contrast, just 28% rate the federal government in Washington favorably. That is down five points from a year ago and the lowest percentage ever in a Pew Research Center survey.

In examining the partisan breakdown, the Pew poll shows that there has been a steep decline in the share of Democrats expressing a favorable opinion of the federal government since Mr. Obama took office, from 61 percent in July 2009 to 41 percent currently. Favorable opinions also have fallen among Republicans over this period, from 24 percent to 13 percent—the lowest ever favorable rating among members of either party.

About this poll I have an observation and a question. On the former, I would guess the poll reflects, at least in part, the damaging effects of liberalism on the public’s views toward government. What liberalism has done, in the person and presidency of Barack Obama, is take a theoretical debate about the Nanny State and make it real. And unpleasant. It’s worth pointing out that confidence in government rose under President Reagan, who tried, with some success, to re-limit it. But it’s not simply the unprecedented size of government that is eroding confidence in the federal government; it’s also incompetence. See the Affordable Care Act and the stimulus package for more.

As for the question: Why exactly do Americans continue to vote for politicians and support policies that entrusts more and more power to the federal government? As Powerline.com’s John Hinderaker asks, “Why do voters whose instincts are seemingly conservative nevertheless vote for liberal politicians?”

It may be that in general the public is skeptical of the federal government, yet on individual issues people are persuaded that it will do things better and more effectively than state and local governments. Or it may be something else. Whatever the case, the public is investing more and more authority into an institution in which it has less and less confidence, which is not a terribly good thing for a self-governing nation. One might think that Republicans should be able to leverage the public’s skepticism toward the federal government in a way that advances their interests. Of course, that should have been the case in 2012, too–and what the GOP got instead was a drubbing.

America can sometimes be a most curious country.   



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