They've usually leaned more toward the free market. Fox News polls in 2010 and 2012 showed that the percentage of Americans saying the government does “too much” outpaced those saying it “should do more” by double digits — 50 percent to 40 percent in 2010 and 49 percent to 37 percent in 2012. And CNN has asked a similar question over the years, finding Americans preferred less government by sometimes even bigger margins — by as much as 30 points in 2011 (63 percent to 33 percent) and by 21 points as recently as late 2014 (58-37).
But even as Republicans have risen, it isn't because Americans have suddenly discovered their inner Adam Smiths. In fact, a new Fox News poll shows that the number preferring that the government do more now outpaces those saying it does too much, 44 percent to 43 percent. This is within the margin of error, but it's significantly closer than where we've been in recent years.
And dating to 1992, it's only the second time in 23 polls (conducted by Fox, CNN and Gallup) that “should do more” edged out “doing too much.”
Similarly, the new poll shows a drop in the number of people who trust the free market and businesses rather than the government to improve the economy (57 percent, down from 65 percent in 2012). The number who prefer that the government take a leading role is up four points, from 20 percent to 24 percent.
It perhaps partially explains Trump's win. Trump didn't run as your standard-issue budget-cutting conservative. Quite the opposite, actually. He's proposing a trillion-dollar infrastructure program and saying now is a good time for the United States to borrow more money (i.e., increase the national debt). He also said at various points in the campaign that he wouldn't touch people's entitlement programs. And it stands to reason that this might have helped him with working-class voters who might like the idea of a free market but are also okay with the government Making America Great Again in certain ways. It's also possible that Trump persuades some previous advocates of the free market to change their minds.
Whatever the case, it seems that Republicans are suddenly a little more okay with big(ger) government. Fully 20 percent of Republicans and Trump voters in the new poll say the government should do more.
And it sets up what I think is one of the undersold story lines of the Trump presidency. When Trump says he wants to spend another trillion dollars on infrastructure and do other things that might cost gobs of money, will budget-conscious Republicans go along or stand in his way? And more long term, does the party that warned so frequently about government-run health care suddenly change its stripes because of who the president is and what the people seem to want from their government (which seems to be, increasingly, more of it)? Will they look to Trump's populist approach as a road map for the future?
All interesting questions. What we do know is that Trump's win doesn't appear to be the mandate to downsize government that some on the right may hope.