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Department of Political Science

Robert Oldendick on trends in attitudes about the federal government

The Department’s Robert Oldendick and Stephen E. Bennett published the article, “The Polls–Trends: Federal Government Power” in Public Opinion Quarterly. It examines changes in public attitudes toward the power of the federal government from the period from 1936 through 2017. These data demonstrate that the public’s views on this question are largely shaped by the dimension of federal government power activated by the survey question. When the issue involves the federal government’s power generally, a majority is wary of big government, and this percentage has been increasing in recent years. Similarly, when the question involves the personal dimension – i.e., does the federal government control too much of our daily lives – the public consistently demonstrates concerns about government intrusion. It is when the focus is switched to the dimension of the government providing services that public opinion becomes more evenly divided. Slightly more people believe that the government should be providing more services than feel that the government is already doing too much. Overall, this analysis demonstrates the complexity of the public’s views on the power of the federal government and suggests that this issue will continue to be at the center of divisions in American politics.

The article can be found here:

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