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Do Americans Really Want a Smaller Government?

People attend a tea party protest in Washington, Thursday, April 15, 2010. AP

As the midterm elections approach, many conservative Americans are making the Tea Party-style argument that the U.S. government should be small, localized, and as personally unobtrusive as possible.

But according to a new survey by The Washington Post, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University, many who take that position also hold positions inconsistent with a small-government mindset.

The study, which surveyed 2,054 randomly-selected adults between Sept. 22 and Oct. 5, indicates that most Americans who would like to see a more limited government also call Medicare and Social Security "very important" programs, according to the Washington Post. The Post also reports that most of those surveyed want the federal government to remain involved in education, poverty reduction and health care regulation.

A majority of respondents who said they support the Tea Party do object in some way to the current health care reform legislation. But 50 percent or more also supported equal or more federal involvement in areas like poverty reduction.

Overall, the poll found that nine in ten Americans believed issues like Medicare, Social Security, national defense, food stamps, education, unemployment benefits, or environmental protection were at least moderately important.

Despite what appears to be bipartisan support for a number of specific federal programs, members of the GOP spoke negatively about the national government on a broader level. More than four in ten of those polled gave the Washington a grade of "D" or "F," and 80 percent of Republicans said they thought the government's priorities were misplaced.

Fifty-five percent of all voters thought national leadership was ignoring major issues, and similar percentages said the government is misusing tax money and does not share their values, the Post reports.

A new USA TODAY/Gallup Poll also showed mistrust of the government. Six in ten of those surveyed for that study believed the government is too powerful, and nearly half agreed with the statement: "The federal government poses an immediate threat to the rights and freedom of ordinary citizens."

Legislating health care was the most frequently invoked example of "something the federal government is doing that it shouldn't be doing," with 18 percent citing it. But the same poll indicates that nearly six in ten think the government should ensure that all Americans are granted adequate health care.

Public opinion on the effectiveness of federal programs has ultimately not changed very much in the last ten years, numbers indicate. According to the Post, "perhaps the biggest change over the past decade is the growing partisan gap."

Lucy Madison
Lucy Madison is a political reporter for You can read more of her posts here. Follow Hotsheet on Facebook and Twitter.
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