As the 2012 presidential race focuses on the size and scope of government, a poll released Monday by Pew Research Center shows the link between voters’ views on the matter and which candidate they support is stronger than it has been in decades.
Many campaigns have been colored by a debate over the responsibility of the government, and there has long been a correlation between voters’ interpretations on the issue and which way they lean politically. But that relationship has grown even more pronounced in 2012, as this year’s presidential race has been defined by conflicting views on the role of government. According to Pew, voters’ views on the size of government are now more closely related to electoral preferences than previous election cycles dating back to 1976.
Among registered voters who prefer a larger government, 83 percent support President Barack Obama, while only 12 percent prefer Mitt Romney. Conversely, 65 percent of respondents who say they desire a smaller government intend to vote for Romney, compared with 29 percent who give the nod to Obama. The results are consistent with a Pew survey in June that found a comparable divide between Obama and Romney supporters over the role of the government in the economy.
That correlation is decidedly stronger than it was in recent elections, including the 2004 presidential contest. Eight years ago, 68 percent of voters who preferred a larger government were supporters of Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), compared with 31 percent who supported former President George W. Bush. Fifty-eight percent of those who preferred a smaller government were Bush voters, but 40 percent supported Kerry.
Romney supporters are also more apt than Obama supporters to identify the ballooning federal budget deficit as a significant issue in the election. Eighty-two percent of Romney voters say the budget deficit is “very important” to their vote — making it the third most important issue among supporters of the Republican nominee — compared with just 55 percent of Obama voters. Sixty-nine percent of voters say a combination of tax increases and spending cuts is the best way to achieve a balanced budget.
Overall, a solid majority of voters — 56 percent — say they prefer a smaller government that provides fewer services, compared with 35 percent who say they would like a larger government that dispenses more services. Opinion on that question was more closely divided four years ago, when 46 percent said they preferred a smaller government and 40 percent said they wanted a larger government.
Tom Kludt is a newswriter for TPM. A former research intern and polling fellow for TPM, he lives and works in New York City. Tom graduated summa cum laude from the University of South Dakota in May of 2010 with a B.A. in Political Science and History. He can be reached at Tom (at) talkingpointsmemo.com.