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Voters Want Super-sized Government to Crash Diet

A Commentary By Michael Barone

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Let's put government on a diet. That's what voters seem to be saying in response to the Barack Obama Democrats' vast expansion of the size and scope of government.

Evidence comes from pollster Scott Rasmussen. He asked likely voters -- his usual sample, which tilts more Republican than all adults -- whether increased government spending is good or bad for the economy.

The results were unambiguous. Good for the country? Twenty-eight percent. Bad for the country? Fifty-two percent.

He got similar results when he asked whether increasing the federal debt is good or bad for the economy. Likely voters believe it's bad for the economy by a 56 percent to 17 percent margin.

There is some dissent, from the voters Rasmussen labels the Political Class. These are voters who trust the judgment of America's political leaders over that of the American people, who do not believe the federal government has become a special interest group and who don't believe government and big business work together in ways that hurt consumers and investors.

In other words, they're the people The New York Times' David Brooks refers to as "the educated class." Or those voters in Cambridge and Brookline who stuck with the Democratic nominee in the special Senate election last January.  

Two-thirds of Rasmussen's Political Class voters believe that increased government spending would be good for the economy. These voters resemble those "practical men, who," in John Maynard Keynes' words, "believe themselves quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist."

The defunct economist in this case is Keynes himself, who argued in the 1930s for the government to hire some men to dig holes and others to fill them up. Political Class voters, who wouldn't dream of digging holes themselves,
still think this is a good idea. Most Americans don't.

Further evidence comes from a poll conducted by Magellan Data and Mapping Strategies in the always key state of Ohio, where unemployment is well above the national average and job growth has been minimal for a decade.

Registered voters were asked to choose responses to Ohio state government's $8 billion budget deficit. Only 16 percent favored increasing taxes, while 27 percent wanted to cut government services and a whopping 50 percent favored reducing the compensation packages of government workers.

Critics might complain that that third alternative is a false choice, in that salary and benefit cuts would not eliminate the deficit by themselves. But even when voters were given a second choice among the three alternatives, only 16 percent more favored increasing taxes. Which is another way of saying two-thirds of Ohio voters are dead set against tax increases.  

These responses suggest a vivid awareness of the fact that while some 8 million private sector jobs have been lost in the recession, the number of public sector jobs has remained almost completely steady. The Obama Democrats' stimulus package, which directed one-third of its money to state and local governments, in effect insulated the public sector from the economic hurricane that has swept through the private sector.

It's time, Ohio voters seem to be saying, for government workers to share the pain the people who pay their salaries have been suffering.

Rasmussen's likely voters have similar views. By a 69 percent to 15 percent margin, they believe cutting taxes is a better way to create jobs than more government spending. By a 65 percent to 23 percent margin, they believe that decisions made by business owners seeking to grow their businesses will do more to create jobs than decisions by government officials.

Over the last 18 months, Americans have watched as government takes months or years to create public works jobs, and over the last three months, we have watched government's plodding response to the BP gulf oil spill.

Government has grown vastly more expensive but has not acted with the speed and suppleness that it did under Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s. The parasite is growing, while the host has been losing weight.

In the meantime, Democrats are preparing to let the George W. Bush tax cuts on high earners -- on investors and job creators -- expire. They want more revenue to feed the government beast.

Most voters take a different view. They want to put government on a diet.

To slim it down, make it more lithe and limber, and stop it from choking off the recovery of the private sector economy.

Michael Barone is senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner.

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Views expressed in this column are those of the author, not those of Rasmussen Reports.

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