How Much Regulation Is Enough? What Does the U.S. Public Think?

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE January 19, 2011

What should be the balance between needed and excessive regulation?

In her new analysis of the public's stance on regulation, AEI scholar and public opinion expert Karlyn Bowman, finds that, public opinion on regulation swings back and forth, often in relation to news events that capture the public's attention, but on the whole, Americans are wary of too much regulation and believe that government intervention should protect the free-enterprise system. President Barack Obama's plan for a government-wide review of existing regulations reflects these concerns. This Outlook examines general attitudes about regulation and looks specifically at public opinion since 2008 on regulation of the financial sector.

Among Bowman's Key Points:

  • Americans are of two minds about regulation. They want government to watch over business, but they worry that too much regulation undermines the free-enterprise system.
  • Public support for more government regulation of banks and financial institutions was strong in the months after the financial crisis. The harshly negative perceptions of Wall Street after the crisis contributed to the public's call for greater regulation. In the February 2009 Harris poll, eighty-seven percent agreed that "recent events have shown that Wall Street should be subject to tougher regulations."
  • The pendulum has swung, however. As early as spring 2009, there were hints in surveys that Americans thought that government was doing too much. By late 2009, around six in ten Americans were telling pollsters that government was doing too much that should be left to individuals and businesses, while around 35 percent said government should be doing more.

Karlyn Bowman can be reached at kbowman@aei.org (202.862.5910) or through her assistant at andrew.rugg@aei.org (202.862.5917). For all other questions and media inquiries, please contact Sara Huneke at sara.huneke@aei.org (202.862.4870).

AEI's in-house ReadyCam TV studio-for live and taped interviews-can be booked through VideoLink at 617.340.4300. To book AEI's radio booth and ISDN lines, please contact Sara Huneke as well at sara.huneke@aei.org.

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