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Americans hate regulations in the abstract, but love them in the particular

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Americans have increasingly turned against the idea of “government regulation” since the beginning of the Obama administration. According to the latest Pew Research Center survey, 52 percent of Americans believe that government regulation of business usually does more harm than good, while just 40 percent believe it’s “necessary to protect the public interest”—the complete reverse of public opinion at the height of the financial crisis.


But when you drill down to specific rules and industries, a strikingly different portrait emerges: The overwhelming majority of Americans believe that government regulations of the food industry, car safety, workplace safety, prescription drugs, and even environmental protection should either be strengthened or be preserved as they are, with only a small fraction believing they should be reduced.


The difference between Republicans and Democrats on the issue is the biggest when it comes to environmental protection, but even so, only 36 percent of Republicans polled believe that environmental rules should be rolled back. And Pew points out that these views on specific regulations have changed little overall since 1995.

Americans also tend to favor more regulation when asked about specific industries: a plurality believe that the health insurance, energy, banks and big corporations are underregulated. There is one outlier, however: nearly 50 percent of Americans believe that small businesses are overregulated, which helps explain why both parties routinely bend over backward to seem like small-business boosters.


This contradictory take on regulations also mirrors public opinion on health-care reform: Americans have been dissatisfied with the Affordable Care Act as a whole, but some specific changes under the law are extremely popular.

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