Tuesday, April 12, 2011

All Institutions Have Too Much Power?

Both Matt Yglesias and Kevin Drum wrote about a recent Gallup poll which asked the respondents whether various American institutions have too much power, just about the right amount or too little. Both Yglesias and Drum used this table to support the argument that Americans mostly find all the important institutions too powerful except for the military:

Note that only the four first items are found too powerful by a majority of the respondents. It is lobbyists, major corporations, banks and financial institutions and the federal government which people would prefer to see with less power.

But who are these people? It pays to look at how these opinions vary between individuals with different political views. The following table does that:

These rankings vary by party in a way which is more predictable than the first table. If we decided to use the criteria of a majority agreeing that some institution has too much power and if we applied that criteria separately to Democrats, Republicans and Independents, then the federal government would drop out of the above list. Only lobbyists, banks etc. and major corporations would remain.

Interesting, because the federal government quite seems to like lobbyists, banks and major corporations.

What about the military then? Yglesias points out that the military is the only major institutions which the respondents viewed as least likely to have too much power:
But to me what’s most telling and distressing about this poll is the extent to which the military stands above other institutions in public esteem. This means that no matter what people say about defense spending or the deficit, it will in practice be extremely difficult for mere politicians to ever win an argument with generals and admirals.
This could be the case. On the other hand, I wonder if the concept of "power" is interpreted differently when it comes to the military. It is, after all, by definition about the use of power. In short, I'm not sure that the military fits into a question like that very well.