The majority of Americans think the federal government is too big. Conservatives should harness this sentiment for structural reforms.
Over the last six years, Democrats have been on a Washington power bender, taking power from the states and giving it to the federal government. The Left has used hot-button issues such as state bans on gay marriage and governors seeking to ban Syrian refugees as the parade of horribles to show what happens when the crazy states are in change.
President Obama justified the federal takeover of healthcare (Obamacare) and energy (the Clean Power Plan) saying states not helping their uninsured populations enough or protecting the environment enough, leaving his administration no choice but to implement top-down solutions.
But the Left has overplayed its hand. The majority of Americans (60 percent) now believe the federal government is too powerful—the highest in polling history, aside from 2013, according to a recent Gallup poll. That belief has grown stronger among Democrats and Independents under President Obama. During Obama’s first term, 59 percent of Independents and 24 percent of Democrats thought that was the case. During Obama’s second term, those numbers grew to 64 percent and 37 percent, respectively.
The unpopularity of the federal government is good news for Republicans in 2016, many of whom are running on limited-government platforms. But conservatives should be smart in how they rein in Washington, prioritizing lasting reforms over short-term gains.
This Doesn’t Mean Americans Hate Government
It begins with a recognition that government, writ large, is not the enemy. While distrust of Washington is high, a plurality of Americans continue to trust their local and state governments. That’s for good reason. State governments often have been far more effective at innovating and delivering public services compared to Washington’s one-size-fits-all approach.
This isn’t because states or their leaders are inherently smarter, purer, or more disciplined than Washington insiders. It’s because they are able to customize programs better to the populations that they serve.
Just review some of the successful state initiatives in the last ten years. Take criminal justice reform as an example. In 2007, under Gov. Perry’s leadership, Texas reformed its drug courts, allowing offenders to stay out of jail if they agreed to supervision, drug testing, and treatment. Texas imposed graduated sanctions for minor violations instead of immediate re-incarceration, and allowed non-violent offenders to earn up to 20 percent of their terms from vocational programs. Largely due to these reforms, Texas was able to close three prisons and crime dropped to its lowest since 1968.
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