Graduation Year

Fall 2011

Document Type

Open Access Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



Reader 1

John Pitney

Reader 2

Gregory Hess

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© 2011 Christopher P. Eldred


As the federal government seeks ways to stimulate our economy and reduce our national debt, understanding public attitudes on the role and size of government and the taxes that support it is important. This thesis evaluates how US public opinion towards government and taxes has changed from 1990 to the present, and analyzes several potential causes for changes that have occurred. It is intended to be an update of William G. Mayer’s 1992 book entitled The Changing American Mind, which analyzed changing public opinion from 1960-1988. In following his analysis, the causes I have analyzed are generational replacement, fiscal and economic indicator data, and important political events. Through and examination of public polling data from the last twenty years, I have concluded that attitudes fluctuated relatively mildly on these issues since 1990. My analysis reveals that generational replacement exerted little influence on opinions. However, analysis also reveals that major changes in fiscal and economic indicator data and various major policy initiatives induced the greatest swings in public opinion of the last two decades. I believe that these changes reflect that American aggregate opinion remains constructed on a post-Ronald Reagan ideological foundation, whose features include an inherent suspicion of government and resistance to taxes. Understanding this is crucial to understanding the nation’s political trajectory.