Reagan wins: More than a third of liberals think Democrats over-rely on government

Mark it: June 26, 2014 — 12,210 days after Ronald Reagan's first inaugural address to the nation — and more than one-third of the most liberal Americans think that the Democratic Party is too reliant on government to solve problems.

Pew Research's exhaustive new study of American political beliefs segments the country into seven different groups, falling roughly along the political spectrum from left to right. At the far right, "steadfast conservatives" — strong Republicans who are critical of Wall Street and immigration. At the far left, "solid liberals," who always vote Democratic and strongly support President Obama. About what you'd expect.

And then we get to this question.

govt

We frequently outline the differences between the parties in terms of their acceptance of the role of government. It's a shorthand: Republicans (like a certain former president) oppose big government; Democrats are comfortable with it.

The above graph indicates that more people (though likely within the margin of error) think that Democrats rely too much on government than think that Republicans are too willing to cut government programs; not a surprise. Nor is it surprising that there's overlap — that at least 7 percent of the country thinks both of those things.

But look at the bottom. The figures from solid liberals are ... unexpected.

As respondents shift to the political left (from top to bottom on the chart), they're increasingly likely to say that Republicans are too willing to cut government programs. But that's a different question than what's asked about Democrats. The question about Democrats is a blanket statement, "too often seeing government as the only way to solve problems." And nearly four-out-of-ten strong liberals agrees with that idea.

Yes, a quarter of steadfast conservatives are also critical of Republican opposition to government programs. The question about the GOP, though, is a bit less sweeping than that about the Democrats. And also: 26 is smaller than 38.

The thing about Reagan that we led with was sort of a joke and sort of a troll. But it's also sort of true. The political narrative that Democrats rely on government solutions is one that's clearly taken hold, even among the party's staunchest supporters. Republicans would likely argue that this is thanks to, well, Democratic reliance on government solutions. Democrats would probably point to anti-tax rhetoric that makes cutting the size of government paramount.

If so, that rhetoric has taken hold. Either way, Reagan wins.

Philip Bump writes about politics for The Fix. He previously wrote for The Wire, the news blog of The Atlantic magazine. He has contributed to The Daily Beast, The Atlantic, The Daily, and the Huffington Post. Philip is based in New York City.
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