A new survey from Gallup proclaims “Americans Name Government as No. 1 U.S. Problem.” This headline alone brought a smile to my face, until I clicked on the article and read the results, and began to think about what the results meant.
Many conservatives like to quote Ronald Reagan who, during his first inaugural address, said, “government is not the solution to our problem; government is the problem.” These are the same people who then look for government solutions to what they perceive as problems: immigration, drugs, same-sex marriage, terrorism, and a myriad of other issues whereby they want government to find a solution.
On the flip-side, you have many liberals/progressives who think that government is not doing enough to solve a myriad of what they perceive as problems: campaign financing, unfair taxation, guns, drugs, terrorism, and a myriad of other issues whereby they want government to find a solution.
So, right off the bat you have two seemingly opposing sides who want government to find solutions to their perceived problems, and both sides – which are really different feathers on the same bird – agreeing on some of the problems. The difference between them is they disagree on the solutions, which may explain why only 31% of respondents stated they were “satisfied with the way things are going in the United States at this time,” whereas 67% were dissatisfied.
But what about the survey title? Good question. Respondents were asked the open ended question: “What do you think is the most important problem facing this country today?” And nearly 1 in 5 (18%) gave some variant of the answer “dissatisfaction with government/Congress/politicians; poor leadership/corruption/abuse of power.” The next highest answer was some variant of “economy in general.” However, when specific economic issues are added to “economy in general,” economic problems account for 41% of what is viewed as the most important problem in the country, not government, but I digress.
I realize that some people will look at these results, and think that people are coming around to the realization that governments aren’t necessary, I’ve heard people make this claim in the past. However, I find it to be quite a stretch for a few reasons. We don’t know the breakdown of the responses that were combined under the “government” label. Simply because someone is dissatisfied with Congress or politicians in general, doesn’t mean they believe that Congress should be abolished. Because someone is dissatisfied with what they view as an abuse of power doesn’t mean they would feel the same way if their preferred politician were carrying out the same policies. Dissatisfaction with corruption, poor leadership, or “the way things are going,” again does not mean dissatisfaction with the very existence of government.
Maybe I’m being overly skeptical about what these results mean. Maybe I’m being realistic, and realize that it will take time to get people to realize that the reason government is the problem has nothing to do with the wrong people being in office, and everything to do with government being based on violence and forced consent!