Almost Half of Americans See Government as “Immediate Threat”

Many say the federal government is an immediate threat that endangers the rights and freedoms of ordinary people.

Why does the government always want to scare us? Why do they want to make us always afraid of terrorism overseas? Why do they invent environmental catastrophes to use to scare us?

H. L. Mencken said it best:

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace in a continual state of alarm (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing them with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

But the point isn’t just to provide some new justification of government action. There is also the need to simply distract the people from seeing government as a potential threat to our rights and freedoms.

According to Gallup, our government is failing to distract half the population. They know that government is an immediate threat.

Almost half of Americans, 49%, say the federal government poses “an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens,” similar to what was found in previous surveys conducted over the last five years. When this question was first asked in 2003, less than a third of Americans held this attitude.


The latest results are from Gallup’s Sept. 9-13 Governance poll. The lower percentage of Americans agreeing in 2003 that the federal government posed an immediate threat likely reflected the more positive attitudes about government evident after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The percentage gradually increased to 44% by 2006, and then reached the 46% to 49% range in four surveys conducted since 2010.

Gallup asks people who think the government is an immediate threat to write why they think so. The most popular explanation was simply that government is too big and creates too many laws.

I would love to think this trend represents a turning point in the American Republic, but Gallup tries to raise doubts:

The fact that almost half of Americans see the federal government as an immediate threat to their lives and freedoms may appear alarming at first, perhaps conjuring an image of Americans worrying that the government will be breaking down their doors and engaging in random arrests of private citizens.

But two findings mitigate against this type of more dramatic interpretation. First, the fact that Democrats and Republicans have flipped in their probability of holding these views when the administration changed in 2009 shows that these attitudes reflect more of a response to the president and disagreement with his policies than a fundamental feeling about the federal government in general.

Second, the explanations offered by those who hold this view reveal more traditional or political types of complaints about things the government is doing, rather than more radical beliefs about the government using power or force against its citizens.

I’m not sure I see the distinction in that second finding. But the first is telling. Until people learn that Big Government is a threat no matter who is in charge, we are not going to be able to address the real problem we face.

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