- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 18, 2007

I recently wrote a column arguing that federalism deserves a reprise (“Whatever happened to federalism?” The Washington Times, Feb. 15). Shifting money, power and influence out of Washington and back to the states is an old idea that merits some new attention.

Last month, the nation’s governors gathered at the White House and pitched the same theme. Washington is either too partisan, too slow or too inflexible to address many domestic problems effectively. Governors want the freedom and the resources to take a crack at solving some of these problems. And they came to Washington to ask for the tools to do just that.

It turns out that governors aren’t the only ones interested in moving government programs closer to the people. Public opinion strongly supports this renewed flight to federalism as well. In a recent nationwide Dutko Worldwide poll, conducted in late January 2007 (800 registered voters, +/- 3.5% margin of error) voters expressed a distinct preference for devolving power out of Washington both as a general proposition, but also as a way to improve specific programs such as health care.

For example, when we asked if voters would prefer giving more power to state and local governments to make policy decisions and develop their own programs, or would they prefer more centralized decision-making in Washington, a robust 74 percent chose the state and local approach, and only 21 percent wanted more centralized power in Washington. These results varied little across ideological, political or demographic lines. For example, while 76 percent of self-described conservatives wanted more local control, so did 74 percent of self-described liberals. Similarly, 76 percent of Republicans preferred state and local control, as did 74 percent of Democrats. Differences between men and women were also statistically insignificant.

We also asked a more specific question about voter support for state and local governments experimenting with strategies for expanding health care, as states like California and Massachusetts have already done. Here again, citizens voice strong approval, with 72 percent saying they favored such experimentation and only 26 percent saying they opposed it. Interestingly, on this question, self-described conservatives were about 11 percent less likely to support experimentation compared to self-described liberals (67 percent vs. 78 percent). The biggest variation came among voters of different ages. Support among those under 35 years old was the strongest (84 percent), and it dipped among those 65 and over, but even among those in this age group, a strong majority of 59 percent support devolving power to the states.

Sometimes lawmakers and bureaucrats in Washington conclude that the beginning and end of policy solutions revolve around the Beltway. These results suggest voters are open to ideas and addressing problems at a more local level. Presidential aspirants and even congressional candidates may want to put federalism back on their menu of new ideas. Voters seem hungry for this type of change in direction.

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