Thursday 20 November 2008

Most Americans want more government, not less

51 per cent of Americans now believe that government should do more to solve problems, with 43 per cent say it is doing too many things better left to businesses and individuals.

That was among the most striking findings from the US election night exit polls. For the first time since pollsters began asking the question in 1994, when 56 per cent thought government was doing too much, most Americans want more government, not less.

The centre-left is often - even in America - on the popular side of the argument when it comes to concrete things that government does, even at times when the abstract argument for 'less state' is in the ascendancy. Newt Gingrich didn't realise that: trying to apply his political rhetoric in practice led to the rapid failure of his Republican revolution.

That even the abstract argument is for more government provides the opportunity for a realignment in political ideas. This may not be confined to the United States. The key to Obama's election victory - and the failure of the right's attacks on him, was the high priority which voters place on government action to protect citizens against the worst risks of an economic downturn.

But the US Republican leadership remains in denial about this, as a Time interview with re-elected House Minority Leader John Boehner demonstrates.

BOEHNER: America is a center right country.

TIME: Still?

BOEHNER: Yes, no question. When you look at all the exit polling, Americans don’t want bigger government, they don’t want higher taxes. And frankly, I think the Congress is still a center-right Congress.

This is more evidence to suggest that cutting government is not nearly as popular or as easy as its advocates think.

The British Conservative party - back in its comfort zone arguing for less spending, tax cuts and a smaller state - may be making the same mistake.

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