AP-NORC poll: Americans think a president’s power should be checked

Published 5:09 pm Tuesday, April 9, 2024

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WASHINGTON — Like many Americans, Richard Bidon says he’d like to see the U.S. government “go back to its original design” — a system of checks and balances developed nearly 240 years ago to prevent any branch, especially the presidency, from becoming too powerful.

But that’s mainly when Republicans are in power.

Bidon, an 84-year-old Democrat who lives near Los Angeles, said if President Joe Biden is reelected, he doesn’t want him to have to get the approval of a possibly Republican-controlled Congress to enact policies to slow climate change. He wants presidents to have the power to change policy unilaterally — as long as they’re from the right party.

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“When a Democrat’s in, I support” a strong presidency, Bidon said. “When Republicans are in, I don’t support it that much. It’s sort of a wishy-washy thing.”

A new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Opinion Research finds that Bidon’s view is common. Though Americans say don’t want a president to have too much power, that view shifts if the candidate of their party wins the presidency. It’s a view held by members of both parties, though it’s especially common among Republicans.

Overall, only about 2 in 10 Americans say it would be “a good thing” for the next president to be able to change policy without waiting on Congress or the courts. But nearly 6 in 10 Republicans say it would be good for a future President Donald Trump to take unilateral action, while about 4 in 10 Democrats say the same if Biden is reelected.

The sentiment comes amid escalating polarization and is a sign of the public’s willingness to push the boundaries of the political framework that has kept the U.S. a stable democracy for more than two centuries. In the poll, only 9% of Americans say the nation’s system of checks and balances is working extremely or very well.