Why doesn’t policy reflect sentiment?

Here’s an obviously rhetorical question: What do you think Americans view more favorably when it comes to various terms — small businesses, entrepreneurs  and free enterprise … or the federal government?

Unfortunately, the answer to that easy question raises a far more perplexing question: Why doesn’t government policy better reflect public sentiment?

Gallup recently reported the latest results of a telephone poll in which Americans were asked whether they had positive or negative images of seven economic terms.

Those who responded to the poll expressed the most positive images for small business at 96 percent, entrepreneurs at 87 percent and free enterprise at 85 percent. Those proportions have remained fairly steady compared with the results of polls conducted in November 2012 and January 2010.

Americans viewed the term big business a little less favorably with 53 percent of those polled responding positively. That’s five points less than 2012, but four points more than 2010.

Now contrast Americans’ views of small businesses, entrepreneurship and free enterprise with their views of the federal government, with just 44 percent of those responding to the latest poll expressing a positive image. Completing a little simple math means the majority of Americans — 56 percent, to be exact — have a negative image of the federal government.

The poll also revealed a difference in sentiment between two other terms: capitalism and socialism. While 60 percent of Americans said they had a positive image of capitalism, just 35 percent expressed a similar viewpoint about socialism. Despite support for Bernie Sanders and his bid for president as a
self-described “Democratic socialist,” the gap between support for capitalism and socialism was exactly the same at 15 percent in 2010.

Gallup also broke down the latest poll results by political persuasion and age.

Those who identified themselves as Republicans or who lean Republican were slightly more favorably in their views of small businesses, entrepreneurs and free enterprise than those who identified themselves as Democrats or who lean Democratic. But for the most part, those terms received bipartisan support. The biggest differences occurred in the views of the federal government and socialism. While only 30 percent of those in the Republican camp reported a positive image of the federal government, 59 percent of those in the Democratic camp did so. When it comes to socialism, just 13 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning respondents reported a positive image. That proportion was 58 percent for Democrats and Democratic-leaning respondents.

The terms small business and entrepreneurs once again engendered support from respondents of all ages. Those age 18 to 28 years were more positive in their image of socialism at 55 percent than those in other age groups. Only 24 percent of those aged 65 and older had a positive image of socialism.

Political candidates respond to polls. So what happens when those candidates are elected? And why is that Americans react almost universally positively to small businesses and entrepreneurship, yet government policies often run counter to that sentiment?

That last question, by the way, was not rhetorical.