You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Sat, Nov 19, 2011 : 7 a.m.

New data on values: What do we want government to do?

By Wayne Baker

1118 Tea Party Protester.jpg

Protester at a Tea Party Rally

Public domain photo from Wikimedia Commons

Editor's note: This post is part of a series by Dr. Baker on Our Values about core American values. This week, Dr. Baker is discussing important findings from the Public Religion Research Institute’s 2011 American Values Survey.

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 percent) — agree that the government interferes too much in our lives. Large majorities of Republicans (82 percent) and Tea Partiers (88 percent) 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 percent) 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 percent) and of Tea Partiers (51 percent) 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 Thursday).

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?

Please add a comment below...

and connect with other OurValues readers via Facebook!

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

Dr. Wayne E. Baker is a sociologist on the faculty of the University of Michigan Ross School of Business. Baker blogs daily at Our Values and can be reached at or on Facebook.