Where Is The Public On Government Regulation?

New results from two major polls with long trends provide different pictures of public attitudes toward regulation, but a similar picture of deep partisan differences on the issue. A third and more extensive survey informs the other two.

Last week, the Gallup Organization released the results of a September survey, noting that “[f]or the 12th year in a row, more Americans say there is too much government regulation of business and industry than say there is either too little or the right amount.” In the new poll, 45 percent said too much, 23 percent too little, and 29 percent about the right amount. Sixty-eight percent of Republicans compared to 20 percent of Democrats said there was too much regulation.

Pew’s question, which the organization posed for the first time in 1994, asks people which of two statements comes closer to their view. In the June–July poll, 50 percent said government regulation of business is necessary to protect the public interest, while 45 percent said government regulation usually does more harm than good. Two-thirds of Democrats said government regulation was necessary, compared to 31 percent of Republicans.

A third survey, conducted by Dr. Emily Ekins of CATO, is a more extensive exploration of attitudes toward regulation in the financial arena, but it also asks people a series of general questions about regulation. The CATO survey divided Pew’s tradeoff question into two separate questions, asking people to agree or disagree with each statement. When asked this way, 69 percent agreed that government regulation is necessary to protect the public interest. Almost as many, 62 percent, in the other question agreed that it usually does more harm than good.

In terms of positive attributes of regulation, 59 percent in the CATO survey agreed that many important benefits have resulted from regulation of business and industry, and 56 percent agreed that government regulation is a good way of making business more responsive to people’s needs. Negative judgments were stronger: 74 percent agreed that regulations often fail to have their intended effect, and 60 percent that government regulation hinders innovation and growth. On all these questions, like the Gallup and Pew questions above, there were sharp partisan differences. Just to give one example, 39 percent of Republicans agreed that important benefits have resulted from government regulation, compared to 77 percent of Democrats.

Read more of this Forbes op-ed by Karlyn Bowman by clicking here.