Government is a system of people who have the power to make and enforce laws, protect citizens’ property, provide social services, and represent citizens in negotiations with other countries. People create governments to achieve specific goals, such as economic prosperity and secure national borders. Governments also accomplish tasks that private individuals and companies are unable or unwilling to do, such as regulating the environment or providing education. Governments may be formed by the majority or the minority of a society. Governments exist in every country of the world and come in many different forms.
People vote for representatives to city councils, state legislatures, and Congress who make laws that govern their local areas or states. They raise money, which is used to pay for services, by imposing taxes on income, property, and sales. Governments then allocate funds for particular purposes. At the local level, for example, funds are used for things such as schools, police departments, and maintenance of public parks. At the state and national levels, governments draft budgets and prioritize projects for funding.
One important role of government is that it redistributes income by paying benefits to those who are unable or unwilling to work. This is done by raising taxes and paying for things such as unemployment, welfare, and Social Security. People may have strong opinions about how much the government should assist others, and this issue can cause political conflicts.
The third major function of a government is to ensure that it doesn’t abuse its power by making laws that are unfair or unjust. In the United States, for example, the Constitution sets up a system of checks and balances to prevent this from happening. Separate branches of the federal government have the power to change or veto laws that other branches have passed. For example, the president can veto a bill that Congress has passed, and Congress can override a presidential veto by passing a law with two-thirds of both houses of Congress. The Supreme Court and other federal courts (the judicial branch) make sure that the laws made by Congress and the executive branch are consistent with the Constitution.
Most Americans think that the role of government is to provide benefits, such as public schools and healthcare, that businesses and individuals cannot do on their own. However, most also believe that the federal government should not get involved in foreign affairs or regulate business or the environment. People with higher levels of education are more likely to think that the government should do more to solve problems than those with less education. Generally, Republicans are more likely than Democrats to think that the government does too many things that should be left to businesses and individuals. Those with postgraduate education are more likely to be in the middle of this partisan divide, saying that government should do some things and not others. However, all of these groups agree that the government should be accountable to its citizens and that it should follow strict rules when it makes and enforces laws.