A government is a system by which a state, nation or community is run. Its purpose is to create and enforce laws that ensure the safety of its citizens and fair treatment of all people within it. Governments can be created in many ways, but the most effective form is one that empowers the people by giving them a voice and choice on how they are governed. Governments can be large or small, and they can be democratic, republican or monarchical. They can be centralized or decentralized, and they may have a written constitution or charter that defines the rules of the nation. The United States is a constitutional democracy that provides both majorities and minorities with representation in the federal legislature.

Most Americans are critical of the government, but they still say it does a good job on some key issues – keeping the country safe from terrorism (72% do very or somewhat agree), responding to natural disasters (68%), providing healthy food and medicine (54%) and strengthening the economy (53%). They are less positive about how well the government manages the immigration system (34% do very or somewhat agree) and handles threats to public health (42% do very or somewhat agree).

Attitudes toward the appropriate role of government have changed little since 2017 and are mostly unchanged since 2015. Six-in-ten U.S. adults say the government has a responsibility to help those who cannot help themselves – but there are big differences by partisanship and income.

Those who have received benefits from federal programs are more likely than those who have not to say that government has a responsibility to take care of the needy. This gap widens to eight percentage points when looking just at those who are poor or near poverty.

There is an ongoing debate over the proper size of government. Some argue that a smaller government is better and can accomplish more, while others contend that a larger government can handle more complex problems and provide more services to its citizens. The debate has a direct impact on the level of taxes, fees and other forms of revenue.

A common feature of many forms of government is a set of checks and balances designed to prevent one branch from gaining too much power. This is best described in James Madison’s essay on the structure of government, titled “The Structure of Government Must Furnish the Proper Checks and Balances.” As long as politicians are human beings with ambition, there will be a need for checks and balances to limit their power and ensure that the people have control over their elected representatives. A key feature of this type of structure is the separation of powers – the legislative, executive and judicial branches. This provides a check against the tendency of each branch to become corrupt. The United States is a democracy that has a three-branch federal government. The legislative branch includes the Senate and House of Representatives, both of which are elected by the people. The executive branch consists of the president, vice president and their cabinet, and the judicial branch is comprised of district courts, circuit courts and the Supreme Court.