Americans oppose regulating business—until you get down to the specifics.

Americans, the political scientists (and common sense) tell us, are ideologically conservative and operationally liberal. On the level of ideology, they’re opposed to government’s intervention in the economy. On the level of daily life, they support such universal government programs as Social Security and Medicare.

But this split between abstract beliefs and the concrete needs of daily life doesn’t just apply to government programs: It applies to government regulations as well. Last Thursday, the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press released a survey that revealed what Pew termed “Mixed Views of Government Regulation.” But “mixed,” in this case, means anti-regulatory in matters of ideology and pro-regulatory in practice. Asked whether they believed that government regulation of business was necessary to protect the public or that such regulation usually does more harm than good, just 40 percent answered that regulation was necessary, while 52 percent said it did more harm than good.

But then came the specifics. Pew asked whether federal regulations should be strengthened, kept as is, or reduced in particular areas. When it came to food production and packaging, 53 percent said strengthen, 36 percent said keep as is, and just 7 percent said reduce. In environmental safeguards, the breakdown was 50 percent strengthen, 36 percent keep as is, 17 percent reduce. In car safety and efficiency, the split was 45, 42, and 9 percent. In workplace safety and health, it was 41, 45, and 10 percent. And with prescription drugs, it was 39, 33, and 20 percent.

Continue reading →