Like an abused spouse increasingly appalled by a long-time partner's behavior, Americans are falling out of love with the federal workers who enforce an endless litany of mandates, taxes and intrusions into their lives. New data from George Washington University's Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration finds that, in addition to losing faith in the federal government itself, as other polls have revealed, a record number of Americans are losing faith in its loyal minions.
Summarizing their research at Government Executive, William C. Adams and Donna Lind Infeld, who are professors at GWU, write:
American confidence in federal employees has hit a new low, according to a nationwide poll of 800 registered voters released today by The George Washington University. More than one-third of survey respondents—35 percent—voiced "little or no confidence" in federal workers, up sharply from 23 percent in 2011. Only 19 percent of voters said they have "a lot of confidence" in federal workers, while 41 percent indicated "some confidence" and 5 percent were unsure.
Adams and Infeld worry that "Eroding respect for federal service is not a trivial matter. Essential compliance with laws and regulations is built on trust in the fair, responsible implementation of those laws and regulations." Of course, one might rebut, when "a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism,"* people might begin to chafe a bit not just at the institution that harasses them, but at the actual people who seem willing to conduct the harassment in return for steady paychecks and benefits funded by the folks on the receiving end.
As always, there's an ideological divide in opinions of federal workers, but disillusion is spreading beyond the bounds of those traditionally skeptical of government.
Most of the skeptics, as in past surveys, are conservative Republicans. Almost half, or 45 percent, said they have little or no confidence in federal workers, up from 32 percent in 2011. But wariness is spreading. Now independents are nearly as mistrustful, with 41 percent lacking confidence, up from 28 percent in 2011. Even Democrats are less assured, with responses of "very little confidence" doubling from 12 percent in 2011 to 24 percent in 2013. The biggest shifts in opinion took place during the past year.
The past year? What could have happened in the past year to so erode respect for federal workers? Could it have anything to do with revelations of NSA spying? Politicized IRS targeting of government critics? Harassment of inconvenient journalists? FBI overreaching? Obamacare? All of the above and more?
In fact, Adams and Infeld explicity speculate that such eye-openers are the reason for plummeting approval numbers, saying, "Workers who do their jobs effectively and equitably do not make headlines. But embarrassing, alarming and proscribed behavior does."
Interestingly, 73 percent of respondents say they would still encourage young people to consider federal jobs. Maybe it's because they figure government employment is the only place left that's reasonably safe from government workers.
*pangloss90 correctly points out that "He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance" is an even more appropriate quote from the Declaration of Independence.