americans trust anti-government partisan discontent

Poll: 4 out of 5 Americans mistrust Washington
uncertainty personal freedom skepticism

Americans Don't Trust the Government. Here's Why

If it gets much worse, something’s going to have to give, and it won’t be the citizenry withering away. But what might replace the system we got? We trim, blend, and append three 2010 articles appearing Apr 19 from: (1) Reuters, (2) Atlantic by Derek Thompson, and (3) AP by Liz Sidoti.

by Reuters, by Derek Thompson, and by Liz Sidoti

Nearly 80 percent of Americans say they do not trust the U.S. government to do what is right, expressing the highest level of distrust in Washington in half a century, according to a public opinion survey.

Only 22 percent of Americans say they trust the government "just about always" or "most of the time," according to the Pew Research Center survey released on Sunday.

Americans' trust in the federal government has been on a steady decline from a high of 73 percent during the Eisenhower administration in 1958, when the "trust" question was first posed in a national survey, the research center said.

Economic uncertainty, a highly partisan environment, and overwhelming discontent with Congress and elected officials were all factors contributing to the current wave of public distrust, the report said.

The long, bitter debate over the healthcare law that U.S. President Barack Obama signed last month made negative feeling about government, particularly Congress, even worse, according to the report based on a series of surveys of some 5,000 people.

About 25 percent had a favorable opinion of Congress, the lowest in 25 years of surveying, and less than half (40%) said the Obama administration was doing an excellent or good job, Pew said.

Americans were found to be more frustrated than angry, with 56 percent expressing frustration with the federal government, compared with 21 percent who said they were angry.

Forty-three percent of Republicans, 50 percent of independents who lean Republican and 57 percent of those who agree with the Tea Party movement said the government presents a major threat to their personal freedom.

That compares with 18 percent of Democrats, 21 percent of independents who lean Democratic and 9 percent of those who disagree with the Tea Party movement.

The main survey of 2,505 adults was conducted March 11-21. Three other surveys of about 1,000 adults each were conducted March 18-21, April 1-5 and April 8-11. The margin of sampling error for the surveys is plus or minus 4 percentage points.

This poll isn't an outlying data point. It's part of an overall decline in government trust since the mid-1960s. The only time since 1975 that government trust broke 50% was in the months following 9/11. After the tumultuous assassinations of the 1960s, the Vietnam War, the resignation of President Nixon, and the stagflation of the late 1970s, public trust fell from 80% in 1966 to about 25% in 1981.

Majorities in the survey call Washington too big and too powerful, and say it's interfering too much in state and local matters. The public is split over whether the government should be responsible for dealing with critical problems or scaled back to reduce its power, presumably in favor of personal responsibility.

About half say they want a smaller government with fewer services, compared with roughly 40 percent who want a bigger government providing more. The public was evenly divided on those questions long before Obama was elected. Still, a majority supported the Obama administration exerting greater control over the economy during the recession.

Only twice since the 1950s has public skepticism dipped this deeply -- from 1992 to 1995 during which time it hit 17 percent, and 1978 to 1980, bottoming out at 25 percent. The nation was going through economic struggles during both of those periods.

The survey found that Obama's policies were partly to blame for a rise in distrustful, anti-government views. In his first year in office, the president orchestrated a government takeover of Detroit automakers, secured a $787 billion stimulus package and pushed to overhaul the health care system.

But the poll also identified a combination of factors that contributed to the electorate's hostility: the recession that Obama inherited from President George W. Bush; a dispirited public; and anger with Congress and politicians of all political leanings.

Matthew Dowd, a top strategist on Bush's re-election campaign who now shuns the GOP label, says both Republicans and Democrats are missing the mark. Democrats are emphasizing the federal government, while Republicans are saying it's about the individual; neither gets it right. "What the country wants is a community solution to the problems but not necessarily a federal government solution."

In a democracy built on the notion that citizens have a voice and a right to exercise it, the long-term consequences could prove to be simply unhealthy -- or truly debilitating. Distrust could lead people to refuse to vote or get involved in their own communities. Apathy could set in, or worse -- violence.

JJS: Americans, if there were a way to bring the idea to their attention, might find what they seek in geonomics, a policy that's more than the best of both left and right: Lose subsidies to special interests, lose taxes upon our efforts, recover the socially-generated “rents” for sites and resources, and pay citizens a dividend from surplus pubic revenue (a la Alaska’s oil dividend). It’s a formula every breadth of government from local to national could put to good use.

Also see:

Americans maybe ready for a true Third Way?

Another call for the rule of law

A Major Newspaper Promotes a Major Reform

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