New data on values: What do we want government to do? AT A TEA PARTY RALLY. Public domain photo from Wikimedia Commons.As Americans, we can’t seem to agree on what we want our government to do.

To begin with, Americans always have had a preference for limited government. This preference goes back to the nation’s founding and it’s still strong today: Two-thirds of Americans—including a majority of Democrats (54%)—agree that the government interferes too much in our lives. Large majorities of Republicans (82%) and Tea Partiers (88%) see our government as too meddlesome. This new data comes from the 2011 American Values Survey by the Public Religion Research Institute, which we’ve been exploring all this week.

Most Americans (74%) also feel that the government should stop telling people how to live their lives.

But here’s the apparent confusion: At the same time, two-thirds of Americans say the government should make laws to keep people from hurting themselves. Even a majority of Republicans (58%) and of Tea Partiers (51%) agree. Moreover, most Americans say it’s critical for the government to create jobs and protect Social Security, and a majority say the government should tax the rich and raise the minimum wage (as we discussed yesterday).

So, we want a government that doesn’t interfere in our lives, that passes laws to keep us from hurting ourselves, that stops telling us how to live, that creates jobs, and that redistributes wealth. Our views of the proper role of government are complicated, if not downright contradictory.

What do you feel the role of government should be?

Does the government interfere too much in your life?

Or, do you wish the government played a larger role?


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Originally published at, an online experiment in civil dialogue on American values.

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