Poll: Limit President's Power, Unless My Side Wins

WASHINGTON (AP) -- 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.

"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. It also follows promises by Trump to "act as a dictator" on day one of a new administration to secure the border and expand oil and gas drilling.

Bob Connor, a former carpenter now on disability in Versailles, Missouri, wants that type of decisive action on the border. He's given up hope on Congress taking action.

"From what I've seen, the Republicans are trying to get some stuff done, the Democrats are trying to get some other stuff done --- they're not mixing in the middle," said Connor, 56. "We're not getting anywhere."

He blames the influx of migrants on Biden unilaterally revoking some of Trump's own unilateral border security policies when he took office.

"I'm not a Trump fanatic, but what he's saying has to get done is right," Connor said.

Joe Titus, a 69-year-old Democrat from Austin, Texas, believes Republicans have destroyed Congress' ability to act in its traditional legislative role and says Biden will have to step into the gap.

"There's this so-called 'majority' in Congress, and they're a bunch of whack-jobs," Titus, a retired Air Force mechanic, said of the GOP-controlled House of Representatives. "It's not the way this thing was set up."

The current Congress is setting dubious records as the least productive one in the country's history, with fewer than three dozen bills sent to Biden's desk last year. At Trump's urging, House Republicans have stalled aid to Ukraine and a bipartisan immigration bill.

Titus said that in general he opposes expanded presidential power but would support Biden funding more immigration judges and sending additional aid to Ukraine on his own.

"There's certain things that it seems to me the public wants and the other party is blocking," Titus said.

The presidency has steadily gained power in recent years as congressional deadlocks have become more common. Increasingly, the nation's chief executive is moving to resolve issues through administrative policy or executive orders. The U.S. Supreme Court is poised to rule later this year on a case that could significantly weaken the ability of federal agencies -- and thus a presidential administration -- to issue regulations.

Meanwhile, conservatives are planning a takeover of the federal bureaucracy should they win the White House in November, a move that could increase the administration's ability to make sweeping policy changes on its own.

The AP-NORC poll found that voters' views of which institutions have too much power were colored by their own partisanship. Only 16% of Democrats, whose party currently controls the White House, say the presidency has too much power while nearly half of Republicans believe it does. In contrast, about 6 in 10 Democrats say the U.S. Supreme Court, with its 6-3 conservative majority, has too much power.

With Congress evenly divided between the two parties -- the GOP has a narrow House majority, Democrats a narrow Senate one -- Americans have similar views on its power regardless of party. About 4 in 10 from both major parties say it has too much power.

"I think Congress had too much power when the presidency and Congress were both ruled by Democrats, but now that Republicans are in the majority there's an equal balance," said John V. Mohr, a 62-year-old housecleaner in Wilmington, North Carolina.

In contrast, he complained that Biden is "sitting there writing executive orders left and right," including his proclamation marking Transgender Day of Visibility, which fell on Easter Sunday this year.

The abstract idea of a president with nearly unchecked power remains unpopular.

Steven Otney, a retired trucker in Rock Hill, South Carolina, said major policies should be approved by Congress and gain approval from the courts. But he also said it depends on the topic. He wants to see prompt action on certain issues by the next president if he's Trump.

"Some things need to be done immediately, like that border wall being finished," said Otney, a Republican.

He said it's just common sense.

"If Trump got in there and said 'I want to bomb Iran,' no, that's crazy," Otney said. "Within reason, not stupid stuff either way. Something to help the American people, not hurt us."


The poll of 1,282 adults was conducted March 21-25, 2024, using a sample drawn from NORC's probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.8 percentage points.