Inconvenient but true: Americans want government to do less. Not more. Democrats cannot afford to just hand-wave this problem away.

In the first few months of the Biden administration, fawning media coverage declared that the president had inspired a new “paradigm” or “consensus” for robust, active government, harking back to the New Deal or Great Society. Or at least maybe the pre-Reagan era.

And right as President Biden was taking office, voters did seem to want a more muscular public sector.

Case in point: Since 1992, Gallup has been asking whether government should do more to solve the country’s problems. Late last year, the share answering in the affirmative surged. For the first time ever, more than half of respondents (54 percent) said they wanted more from their government. For context, the previous peak was shortly after 9/11, when the share touched 50 percent.

Note that the nation was again grappling with trying circumstances when this poll was conducted last year.

Yes, Biden was running for president at the time, and pitching many of the policies he’s trying to enact now. But we were also in the midst of a botched federal response to covid-19. The Trump administration had abdicated responsibility to help distribute coronavirus tests and other equipment, and officials pushed ludicrously pollyannaish forecasts about death tolls. They sometimes pretended the pandemic didn’t exist.

Understandably, the public demanded more from the government. If there are no atheists in a foxhole, there are fewer libertarians in a pandemic.

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Fast-forward to today. Gallup conducted this poll again a month ago — and found that the share saying government should do more to solve problems has fallen back down to earth. Only 43 percent of Americans support more active government. That’s fairly close to the long-term average.

Respondents of all political persuasions, Democrats included, expressed weaker support for ambitious government than they had a year earlier. Independents showed the biggest decline, with 38 percent saying they wanted government to do more, down from 56 percent in 2020.

Gallup is not the only pollster documenting such patterns. The Pew Research Center also found that Americans’ demand for more robust government reached a high-water mark in August 2020, and had receded by the time it asked again in April 2021.

This is likely to present a problem for the Democratic Party, which is trying to pass a cradle-to-grave expansion of the welfare state.

Democratic lawmakers argue that every major plank of their agenda is popular, so they should just pass them all. Most of their individual policies do poll well in isolation. Survey after survey has found strong support for universal pre-K, paid leave, free community college, Medicare expansions, lower Medicare drug prices and so on.

It might be tempting for Democrats to conclude that whatever voters’ preferences about the general size of government, they’ll still support a big government expansion so long as they like the components of that expansion.

But there are problems with this logic.

The first is that the public doesn’t actually know what the components are. A recent poll from CBS News found that only 10 percent of respondents claimed to know a lot of specific details about what’s in Democrats’ legislation; most said they either knew no specifics or nothing at all. Given that survey respondents have historically been loath to admit ignorance, these numbers probably overstate how much the public understands Democrats’ agenda.

That’s partly the fault of media coverage that emphasizes the bill’s price tag rather than its contents. But it’s also inherently difficult to sum up this grab-bag legislation, particularly when debate even among lawmakers still revolves around the top-line number.

A second problem is that, according to the CBS poll, one of the few things Americans say they have heard about the bill is its huge size. And as we’ve just established, they’re not so keen on hugeness.

Finally, there’s the problem of execution.

Progressives have lately signaled a willingness to shrink the bill’s size — but not its scope. That is, they say that the way to reduce the bill’s price tag is to keep its many programs and just give each of them less money. Maybe fund each for only a few years, for example.

But nearly all of these initiatives (child care, paid leave, etc.) are complex and will be difficult to get off the ground. Shortchanging them, or adding uncertainty about their duration, increases the odds of a bungled rollout. And if you think opposition to “big government” is too high now, imagine the political blowback after months of coverage about expensive, incompetently executed safety-net expansions. I’m already having flashbacks to the 2010 tea party revolution.

These are among the reasons I keep saying: Democrats should do fewer things better, not more things poorly. Focusing their agenda will enable more effective “messaging,” better-executed programs and more supportive voters tomorrow.

And perhaps more supportive voters today, too.