Biden's Big Government Window Has Closed
By: David Davenport of the Hoover Institution (October 24, 2021)
President Joe Biden’s mantra has been "go big or go home." Biden has proposed spending trillions of dollars on COVID relief, infrastructure, and new social programs. On the heels of the pandemic, it appeared that Biden and his fellow Democrats had a window of opportunity to dramatically expand the size and role of the federal government. They saw a chance to cut a 21st century New Deal.
Not so fast. A recent Gallup Poll shows that, at least for the public, the big government window is now closed. As far as the public is concerned, it’s time for the government to recede from its emergency footing and return to a more limited and traditional role.
Gallup has been studying public support for a wider government role in solving problems since 1992. Only twice has 50% or more respondents supported more government: following 9/11 and in 2020, at the height of the pandemic. Otherwise the public prefers smaller government, playing a more limited role in their lives.
From polling done in September, Gallup learned that the blip of support for a larger government role in 2020 is gone. Now 52% of people say the government is doing too many things, a result consistent with polling over the last thirty years. Respondents also say they would prefer lower taxes even if that means fewer government services. Fifty-four percent said the government has too much power.
Of course, government rarely gives up power. When President Bill Clinton said that "the era of big government is over," very little changed. Government grows consistently in size and spending regardless of which party is in power.
Nevertheless, there are clear messages here. One is that the people believe the emergency government needs to be over and things should return to normal in Washington. Governments love to declare emergencies and grow their power, but they find it more difficult to return to normal.
This polling also undercuts Biden's assumed mandate for the big ticket progressive measures he has proposed. Democratic moderates such as Sen. Joe Manchin are opposing the huge spending proposals, struggling against progressives. The people are on the moderate, even conservative, side of that question.
Rarely does a president have the power and support for revolutionary changes in the government. Perhaps only Presidents Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt had that kind of mandate for change because of the Civil War and the Great Depression, respectively. The pandemic, however, has not created the common sense that the government needs revolutionary growth.
It’s time for Biden to shift gears away from a massive expansion of government to incremental change. Perhaps more support is needed for preschool, for example, but there is no need for big government to operate a mandatory preschool.
To the disappointment of progressives such as Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the people do not want a bigger and more powerful government running their lives.
David Davenport is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and a senior fellow at the Ashbrook Center.