A new Gallup poll shows that forty-six percent of Americans believe the federal government “poses an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens.”
The other fifty-four percent? Obviously they aren’t paying attention to what’s happening in their country.
At first glance, this statistic has barely budged from where it was four years ago – when Democrats seized control of the U.S. Congress. A look at the partisan breakdown of respondents tells a different story, however. Just prior to the 2006 elections, fifty-seven percent of Democrats felt threatened by the government compared to just 21 percent of Republicans. Today those numbers have flip-flopped – with sixty-six percent of Republicans feeling threatened compared to only 21 percent of Democrats. Meanwhile, the number of independents who feel threatened by the government has remained steady at roughly 50 percent – although that number is seven points higher than when Gallup first asked this question in 2003.
This data highlights several political truisms – most notably the ability of absolute power to corrupt absolutely (no matter which party is in charge), as well as the misplaced faith that certain segments of the electorate still place in the two-party system.
“This complacency is very unfortunate,” writes Daniel J. Mitchell, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute. “Republicans presumably want to limit government control over the economy, yet it was the Bush Administration that put in place policies such as Sarbanes-Oxley, the banana-republic TARP bailout, the corrupt farm bills, and the pork-filled transportation bills. Democrats, meanwhile, presumably want to protect our civil liberties, yet the Obama Administration has left in place virtually all of the Bush policies that the left was upset about just two years ago.”
Indeed Republicans and Democrats in Washington have not only collaborated to ring up record deficits over the past decade, they’ve also joined forces to dismantle the free market and steadily erode our civil liberties.
These numbers show something else, though. They are a reminder that the GOP wave likely to wash over Washington this fall is drawing significant strength from unflinching independents – or voters whose convictions are not swayed by partisan rhetoric. Should Republicans achieve the gains many are predicting for them this year, the unavoidable reality is that they will be held accountable by a much more engaged, much more libertarian-leaning constituency that bears little resemblance to the GOP of a decade ago.