Americans Want Government to Play A Larger Role in Economic Recovery

As conservatives in Congress exploit the impending vote to on the debt ceiling to further slash government programs that support working and middle class families, a new poll from the Ms. Foundation for Women shows that the American people want the government to play a larger—not smaller—role in improving the economic situation of average Americans.

More than half of respondents agreed that “It is time for government to take a larger and stronger role in making the economy work for the average American.” By contrast, only 36 percent supported the idea that “Turning to big government to solve our economic problems will do more harm than good.”

And while the clamor from conservatives to gut government has heated up in the past year, the poll finds that support for government action to improve the economic situation of American families has actually increased since the poll was conducted last year.

The survey, conducted in March by Lake Research Partners, finds that by a 2-1 margin Americans think government should focus on creating jobs, even if it increases deficits in the short-term. When given the choice between job creation and immediate deficit reduction, two thirds of the public prioritizes jobs. Yet, conservatives in Congress are putting forward plans to do the exact opposite—Congressman Paul Ryan’s budget would cut jobs to reduce spending.

Why this disconnect? How can conservatives push an agenda to slash government programs and threaten jobs, when the American people strongly support government’s role in helping people survive these tough economic times and creating new jobs?

Broadly speaking, conservatives have been able to push through cuts to key programs under the anti-government mantle because the public is acutely aware that much of federal economic policy is squarely aligned with corporate interests and serves to further enhance their power and privilege– bailouts for bankers, subsidies for oil companies, expensive wars in foreign lands. Within this context, attacks on government—and its elite beneficiaries– find fertile ground among the public.

But when conservatives move from their broad brush anti-government rhetoric to attacking specific government programs that actually improve the lives of the American people—like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security– their support disappears. Cue the rowdy town halls of the past weeks.

Progressives should feel emboldened not only to defend these deeply popular programs that support working Americans, but to reset the debate in Washington to focus on job creation. As the new Ms. Foundation poll reveals, Americans not only want to defend these key government programs that promote economic security for “the average American,” they want to expand them.

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