Some commentators made much of the fact that fear of “big government” actually declined in the nearly two years since the last similar survey. In December, 2006 (the middle of the second term of the Bush Administration) 61% feared “big government,” but that concern dropped slightly to 55% in the third month (March 27-29) of the Age of Obama.
In fact, that drop occurred entirely among Democrats, while Independents and Republicans either maintained or actually increased their anxiety about big government. The big shift in Democratic attitudes toward government between 2006 and 2009 (the percentage identifying “big government” as the number one danger slipped from 55% to 32%) makes sense given the change of administrations. The incessant propaganda about the reviled George W. Bush (emphasizing his incompetence, alleged religious fanaticism, imperialist ambitions, and purportedly Hitlerian lust for blood and power) naturally let self-identified Democrats with a healthy distrust of government power as long as the dreaded Republicans maintained their control. If nothing else, the election of Barack Obama reassured these nervous, partisan Democrats (but only the Democrats) that they had nothing to fear from government with their messianic favorite in control.
In fact, the sudden Democratic reversal and the current identification of business rather than government as the biggest threat (52% to 32%) presents a major opportunity to Republicans. In this regard, independents – the crucial swing voters who decide every election and gave Obama his victory last year – far more closely echo Republican attitudes than they do the thinking of the Democrats. Independents chose government as a bigger danger than business (by 29%) while Republicans fingered the government menace even more decisively (an amazing 70%), Meanwhile, it’s Democrats who demonstrate that, on their attitudes toward corporate versus federal power, they stand far outside the mainstream: Dems fear business more than government by 20%.
In other words, in their relative comfort with big government, Democrats part company with Independents by the vast margin of 49%. It’s the party of Obama that has abandoned the great American Center on attitudes toward the private sector, not the party of Reagan.
The most impressive aspect of recent polling involves the stable majority that dreads government more than business. Even after all the setbacks in the corporate world, and nearly three months of soothing Presidential rhetoric about hope-and-change, most moderate and conservative Americans still agree with the unbeatable formulation of Ronald Reagan: “Government isn’t the solution to our problems; government is the problem.”
There’s been no fundamental alteration in the traditional American preference for private sector remedies above bureaucratic strategies. With no sea change in public sentiment (despite misleading proclamations from the media), conservatives should feel confident in sailing forward to reconnect with that larger public that already shares our basic instincts.