Tuesday, September 15, 2015


It's generally agreed that, compared to people in most other nations, Americans are less favorable to government aid to the poor.  For example, a 2002 Pew survey of 42 nations asked people if they agreed or disagreed that "it is the responsibility of the state/government to take care of very poor people who can't take care of themselves."  Americans were 40th.

One popular explanation for this is that Americans are "anti-government" in some way:  we don't trust the government, or are afraid of it getting too powerful.  The same survey offered several statements on that general issue:  "the state/government controls too much of our daily lives," "when something is run by the state/government, it is usually inefficient and wasteful," and "generally, the state/government is run for the benefit of all the people."  Americans ranked in the middle on the second and third of those, but were inclined to agree that "the government controls too much," ranking ninth.  So maybe that helps to explain our lack of support for the government taking care of the poor?  This figure shows the average opinions on government responsibility and government controlling too much (low numbers indicate agreement).

To the extent there's a relationship, people in countries where people think the government controls too much of their lives are more likely to agree that it's the government's responsibility to take care of the poor.  Countries in which people think that the government controls too much are also more likely to agree that the government is run for the benefit of the people.  Beliefs about the government being wasteful and inefficient seem unconnected to all of the other items.

It's hard to say what the lesson is, if any.  But just showing cases in which there's a nice clear pattern gives a distorted picture of reality.

[Data from the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research]

No comments:

Post a Comment