Poll: Americans Say Government Is Nation’s Biggest Problem

Published February 11, 2016

A plurality of American adults surveyed in a Gallup public opinion poll believe government is now the biggest problem facing the nation.

The new Gallup Poll Social Series survey asked approximately 12,000 randomly selected adults over the age of 18 to identify the most important problem in the nation. The survey marks the second consecutive year respondents identified government as the nation’s top problem.

Karlyn Bowman, a senior fellow and research coordinator with the American Enterprise Institute, says Americans have a conflicted relationship with today’s government.

“America is a rich and powerful country, and we want government to do many things,” Bowman said. “At one and the same time, we are persistent critics of a big, lumbering, inefficient, and expensive federal government. We hold these views within ourselves at one and the same time.”

‘Much More to Criticize’

Bowman says as the federal government grabs more power for itself, Americans become increasingly aware of the effect of government on their lives.

“Today, the feds are involved in everything, and there is so much more to criticize,” Bowman said. “This is not to underestimate the criticism. It is real and powerful. Here’s an interesting comparison: The military is the most popular institution in American life; Congress is one of the least popular. Why? In my view, because the military’s mission is clearly and narrowly defined, and the military carries it out well and deals with its problems. Congress has so many responsibilities that there is just a lot more to criticize.”

Problem-Maker, Not Problem-Solver

Mark Thornton, a senior fellow with the Mises Institute, says Americans generally understand how government is a roadblock to their happiness.

“It would seem that [only] 16 percent of Americans ranking government as the number-one problem is low,” said Thornton. “My research indicates that most of the other problems are created by government. There are obvious things like the government’s budget deficit, and there are less obvious problems like health care and unemployment. So, the fact that more Americans target ‘government’ as the number-one problem is significant in that more Americans understand that government is the problem, not the solution.

“We now know that when government massively intervenes to stop a crisis, the economy remains stagnant for many years, like with the Great Depression and post-1980s Japan,” Thornton said. “When they don’t intervene, the crisis turns into a quick, sharp correction, and the economy soon returns to vigorous economic growth.”

Dustin Siggins ([email protected]) writes from Washington, DC.  

Internet Info:

“Government Named Top U.S. Problem for Second Straight Year,” Gallup: http://www.gallup.com/poll/187979/government-named-top-problem-second-straight-year.aspx/