The Washington Post

The wide partisan divide over government power — in 1 chart

Does the federal government have too much power? Depends on whom you ask and when you pose the question.

Republicans broadly agree that the government has too much power, according to a new Gallup poll released Monday. More than eight in 10 say so. Only 38 percent of Democrats agree with that assessment.

It wasn't always that way.

Take a look at the following chart from Gallup. Until late 2008, the two parties were much closer together for several years. What's more, from 2003-2007, Democrats were the ones talking about a government grown too powerful.


What to make of the data? Three things:

1.The uptick in the GOP belief that that government is too powerful coincides with the beginning of the Obama presidency. Considering that Republicans have railed against policies signed by President Obama like the health-care law and the stimulus as symptoms of an oversized and overreaching government, the jump is not surprising.

2. Considering that Republican George W. Bush was in power from 2003-2007 during the height of the Iraq war, when concerns about the loss of life, escalating violence and mounting costs were widespread -- especially among Democrats -- it's not surprising that the party more concerned about the scope of government power was not the GOP.

3. The percentages of Democrats, Republicans and independents who say the government is too powerful have ticked up this year. (Overall, six in 10 Americans say the government has too much power.) A plausible explanation for the across-the-board-increase: The revelations about government surveillance that together have become one of the biggest developing stories of 2013.

It's all a reminder that questions about the scope of government power are heavily dependent on the circumstances of when the question is asked.

Sean Sullivan has covered national politics for The Washington Post since 2012.



Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments
Most Read



Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Your Three. Videos curated for you.
Play Videos
Making family dinnertime happen
Deaf banjo player teaches thousands
New limbs for Pakistani soldiers
Play Videos
A veteran finds healing on a dog sled
Learn to make this twice-baked cookie
How to prevent 'e-barrassment'
Play Videos
Syrian refugee: 'I’m committed to the power of music'
The art of tortilla-making
Michael Bolton's cinematic serenade to Detroit
Play Videos
Circus nuns: These sisters are no act
5 ways to raise girls to be leaders
Cool off with sno-balls, a New Orleans treat
Next Story
Chris Cillizza · September 24, 2013

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.