A Litany of Incompetence Takes Its Toll On A Cherished Democratic Party Notion

The roll call of government incompetence rolls on:

  • The Obamacare roll-out blunders.
  • The Veterans Administration ignoring veterans then covering it up.
  • The IRS targeting the Obama enemies list.
  • Obamacare costing people more, providing them with less.
  • The Bowe Bergdahl for five terrorists trade
  • Syria-Libya-Ukraine-Iraq (or “Obama’s foreign policy” for short)

And this litany has taken a toll on the American support for more government involvement in the wake of Katrina. A lot has been written about the deleterious effect of these poorly-run screw-ups on perceptions of Barack Obama’s competence (despite the fact that all of these problems were news to him – bad news doesn’t penetrate the golf course bubble, apparently).

But, just as important is how American attitudes are shifting about the role of government. The NBC News/Wall Street Journal polls occasionally track attitudes on that question. For only the second time in the 15 times the NBC/WSJ pollsters have asked this question during the Obama Administration the percentage who say that government is doing too many things better left to businesses and individuals has hit 50{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}.

chart 1

The last time it was 50{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}? In October of 2010, which preceded an election that, if memory serves, is not one the Democrats would like to replicate. The chart above shows the trend (not all 15 times are shown – but the data is available on page 11 at this link).

Over the past five years, public opinion has been very closely divided on this question, but the division has generally been on the side of government doing more. This survey shows the corrosive effect of the problems of big government constantly mucking up assignments for which it was eager to take on. And it failed.

Key findings among subgroups:

  • Regionally, only in the Northeast do people still say government should do more (55{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} gov’t do more-41{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} gov’t doing too many things). The Midwest (42{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}-52{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}) looks just like the South (43{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}-54{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}), while the West is more evenly divided (45{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}-50{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}).
  • Not surprisingly, there is a huge partisan divide between Republicans (19{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} gov’t do more/79{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} gov’t doing too many things) and Democrats (73{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}-24{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}). Independents look like the overall results (44{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}-50{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222}).
  • Voters who say they are more enthusiastic than usual about voting this year spell trouble for Democrats on this question. Only 43{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} say government should do more, while 54{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} say government is doing too many things. Contrast that with voters who say they are less enthusiastic than usual, as they divide evenly at 49{09f965da52dc6ab4c1643a77bd40d1f729d807040cd8db540234bb981a782222} on each.

This change in attitudes toward the role of government underscores just how debilitating these failures of the bureaucracy, and the failures of the man who believes in that bureaucracy, can be to a central tenet of the Democratic party.

The poll was conducted June 11-15, 2014 by Republican pollster Bill McInturff and Democratic pollster Peter Hart. This analysis is my own and does not necessarily reflect the views of NBC, WSJ, or of Hart Research Associates.

Public Opinion Strategies