It’s no secret that Americans have a hate-hate relationship with the federal government and for good reasons. In part, we don’t trust federal bureaucrats with the massive amounts of our hard-earned money they collect.

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) has proposed eliminating whole departments and government agencies. He  would boldlyreduce the size of government. According to new polling from Gallup, some 34 percent of Americans agree with proposals to abolish the IRS. Meanwhile, a weaker number (18 percent) would eliminate other federal departments, including Education, Energy, Commerce, and Housing and Urban Development.

However, a majority of Americans would not support this streamlining. Some 63 percent disagree with getting rid of the four major federal departments and more and 44 percent disagree with getting rid of the IRS.

Americans overall are more favorable towards reforming hiring as a way to control the size of government. One third (33 percent) support enacting a hiring freeze for all civilian jobs in the executive branch compared to 28 percent who disagree. Some 29 percent support requiring that before government hires one new employee, three government employees must leave. Still almost a third disagree, but 40 percent say they don’t know enough to have an opinion.

What we can deduce from findings that at least a third of Americans reflexively support any effort to reduce the size of government and another third don’t know, but possibly could be swayed?

As Gallup explains, when you layer this new polling onto other measures of dissatisfaction with government, we understand why Americans want a smaller Washington:

When we last asked about the image of the federal government it came in at 25% positive and 54% negative, the worst of any business and industry sector measured. Plus, Americans say that the federal government wastes 51 cents of every dollar it spends. Plus, half of Americans say that the federal government poses an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of the citizens of the country. Plus, six in 10 say the federal government has too much power.

… while Americans are down on government in general, they are not strongly in Cruz's philosophical camp when it comes to his conviction that the federal government should be severely limited in what it does. Our research, in fact, shows that only about a third of Americans favor limiting government to performing only basic functions, a third favor government being empowered to do all it can to fix problems and a third are in the middle between these two extremes. Thus, Cruz is simply fighting an apparent uphill battle — with the public taken as a whole — in his philosophical position that government must be scaled back.

The lesson here is that tactics matter. Taking an axe to entire federal agencies, while wildly satisfying to the third of us who want to see Washington agencies reduced quickly, won’t earn the support of a majority of Americans and could do more to hurt the legitimate movement of reducing the size and scope of government. 

Perhaps, the missing element is explaining how the private sector and civil society are able to do a more effect and efficient job than government in providing for the needs of Americans. There is and should be a minimum of help that federal government provides, but current levels of government far surpass what that should be.