Polls

Americans Trust the Government Less and Less

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Americans trust their government less and less, according to new polling from Gallup.

Overall, "trust in the three branches of the federal government is collectively lower than at any point in the last two decades," with those who place a fair amount or great deal of trust in Congress down to 28 percent. At 43 percent, trust in the executive branch has dropped to its lowest point since Watergate. Only the court system fares relatively well, with 61 percent saying they trust the judicial branch.

Overall, trust has been dropping for years. Yes, there have been a handful of spikes—around September 11th, the war in Iraq, and the election of Barack Obama. But each of those hopeful moments was followed by a rapid slide. Here's Gallup's graph: 

Gallup Polls

What, exactly, trust represents in a survey like this is somewhat hard to pin down. To some extent it's just a measure of approval or disapproval, which is why you see a clear partisan split on trust in the executive branch, with 83 percent of Democrats saying they trust the executive, compared to 37 percent of independents and 13 percent of Republicans.

But it's also a measure of expectation. Will this institution and its members deliver on promises made? Will they act in accordance with the values they claim to hold? Will they make good judgments, and will they act in ways that allow for transparency and accountability?

Which is another way of saying it's a measure of faith. And on the evidence, Americans have lost a lot of faith in their government—the elected branches in particular.

It's easy to imagine politicians trying to address this by promising to do everything better, to finally make it all work as promised. That's sort of what Barack Obama promised back in 2008, when his big idea wasn't any program or policy so much as a promise to change the way Washington works. Another way of putting this is that he was going to restore trust in the government.

But of course, despite initial hopes, that didn't really work out, and, in the end, that notion, and its failure, probably contributed overall to the decline in trust: Obama promised big, sweeping cultural changes that were never likely to pay off, and then when they didn't, trust fell even further. No one likes having their hopes dashed, their expectations shattered.

Which suggests an opening for any politician who is both bold and humble enough to try—acknowledging that there are real limits to what government can accomplish, and promising to do fewer things, but to do them well. 

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  1. Finally, some good news!

    1. Verbatim what I came to post.

      1. But how do the millenials feel about it? Why doesn’t Reason do articles covering that angle of the issue? 🙂

  2. I was just thinking what Reason needed was another poll.

    1. Polls – they stalk you in your sleep, in the country, in the city, or wherever weak men dare breath.

    2. I sense sarcasm.

  3. ?

    Square Obama promised big, sweeping cultural changes that were never likely to pay off, and then when they didn’t, trust fell even further. No one likes having their hopes dashed, their expectations shattered.

    With 83 percent of Democrats saying they trust the executive.

    Show your work.

    1. Show your work.

      We no longer trust Obama.

      We trust the executive.

      Obama is not the right person in charge.

      Vote Hillary!

      1. Vote Hillary Warren!

        FIFY

      2. TOP. MEN.

        Correct answer! You get an “A”.

  4. But…but…Millenials!

    1. Isn’t Butt Butt Millenials a Brazilian website?

      1. Don’t act like you don’t know.

    2. All millenials are libertarians. Aren’t you on facebook?

      1. For Millennials it’s getting under Faceboot that’s the all the rage these days.

  5. Haven’t studies shown that there is a perverse response to this where people not trusting the government leads them demanding more power for the government?

    1. The regulators are all crooked industry plants in the pockets of the people their supposed to be regulating. Therefore we need more regulators. QED

      1. They’re*

        Although I suppose the grammatical fuckup makes sense in the context of that thought process.

      2. Congress are a bunch of corrupt bastards elected by and answerable to wealthy special interests. Therefore, we must allow Congress to gut the First Amendment to clean up the system that elected them.

    2. Well, yeah. I mean, how else are you going to root out corruption except by giving people more power so they can root it out?

    3. Exactly. The only way to restore trust in the government is to give government more power and money. Derpity derpity.

  6. Americans Trust the Government Less and Less

    The reason is because of a propaganda campaign orchestrated by Tea Party activists and anti-government wackos. A little red Marxian talking-head told me so on Fox News, with a straight face.

  7. you see a clear partisan split on trust in the executive branch, with 83 percent of Democrats saying they trust the executive, compared to 37 percent of independents and 13 percent of Republicans.

    Most Democrats don’t want to admit they made a mistake and run the risk of being called “racist.”

  8. Do they trust “government” less or do they trust “this government” less? That is a very important distinction. If it is the latter, it is not good news since it makes it more likely the public will latch onto the first Top Man who comes along promising to make a plan work.

    1. In my own case “government”. Each successive one since Reagan has been less worthy of trust. And, truth to tell, Reagan was simply the best of the worst, not the best of the best.

  9. Only the court system fares relatively well, with 61 percent saying they trust the legislative branch.

    Ummm… I though the courts were the judicial branch.

    1. Them trusting the courts the most isn’t necessarily a good thing. The courts are the most imperious of the three branches.

      Whenever I read these sorts of polls I am always inclined to believe that people don’t trust Congress and the President because they have failed to just roll over the other branches and stick it to the other team, not because people really don’t trust government in a constructive way.

      It is like the low approval ratings for this Congress. I am all for hating on Congress. Yet at the same time I fail to see what this Congress is supposed to do? They can’t make Obama compromise and everyone knows if they actually took any steps to bring him into line, the public would probably hate them more. So I am left with the impression that the public doesn’t like this Congress because they are failing to produce magical results. That doesn’t seem very encouraging to me.

      1. Maybe, someday, people will stop expecting Congress do magical things, and start expecting just to do, you know, minimal things.

        1. It would be nice. There was a poll a while back that called this Congress the worst one ever. It can’t be that if for no other reason it is preventing the village idiot from getting his wishes turned into statute.

          1. It’s because national politics is based on superficialities about personality and most of the prominent GOP personalities come off as less personally likeable than Obama, which is quite a feat, considering that Obama’s personality veers between snobbish indifference and petulant whining.

            Except for Rand Paul, who seems to be developing a relatively positive relationship with voters, even though most of the party leadership seems to hate him.

            1. It is not much of a feat at all when you consider that Hollywood and all of the major media, sans Fox, is made up entirely of Democratic operatives. It doesn’t matter how “likable” you are when the entire mass media culture is set up to make you into a villain.

              They managed to make the typical low information voter think Mitt Freaking Romney was some kind of extremist right wing monster for God’s sake. If they can make the Mormon, I give 20% of my income to charity, former governor of Massachusetts look like some kind of evil arch villain, the truth really doesn’t matter too much.

            2. Except for Rand Paul, who seems to be developing a relatively positive relationship with voters, even though most of the party leadership seems to hate him.

              And that is the most encouraging thing I’ve seen in politics in my lifetime.

              A glimmer of hope.

              1. Just wait Fransisco, the media hasn’t really had a chance to sink their fangs into him yet. Don’t forget, Paul has been a convienent foil to other Republicans. The media is happy to treat him fairly as long as they think he is not a threat to do much himself and is doing damage to other Republicans. The moment he becomes a threat they will turn on him.

                See for example what they did with John McCain. As long as McCain was just fucking with other Republicans, he was a rebel and a straight talker and got all kinds of media fawning. The moment he got the GOP nomination, he was a nasty old man standing in the way of the light worker.

                Paul will get the same kind of treatment.

                1. Here’s the thing about spin…it only works so long as there is no clear evidence to the contrary. It’s like the Democrats trying to blame the failure of Detroit on the Republicans.

                  As the Rs and the Ds continue to fail at fixing a death spiraling economy, people will realize that government is the problem and not the solution…and wait…here’s a guy saying exactly that…

                  At some point, no amount of spin from the TEAMS or the media will convince voters the shit sammich they’ve been eating is really peanut butter.

                  At that point, you have a grass roots movement.

                  1. I keep thinking that Fransisco, but then I remember they re-elected Obama. I am not saying you are wrong. I would certainly like to hope you are not. Time will tell. But the last few years haven’t given a lot of hope for that.

                  2. Here’s the thing about spin…it only works so long as there is no clear evidence to the contrary.

                    Actually, I think it works despite clear evidence to the contrary. See, for example, every spin campaign ever.

                    What breaks down the spin is getting the facts to penetrate the info bubble of the spinnee.

                    That’s why the Repub donors/supporters have been idiots for so long. They keep throwing money at party apparatchiks, instead of building a media presence.

                    1. That’s why the Repub donors/supporters have been idiots for so long. They keep throwing money at party apparatchiks, instead of building a media presence.

                      They seem to think if only they can get their TOP. MEN. elected then everything will be fine, while ignoring the fact that it’s hard, if not impossible, to get your TOP MAN elected in the first place when the other team controls the message.

                    2. That’s why the Repub donors/supporters have been idiots for so long. They keep throwing money at party apparatchiks, instead of building a media presence.

                      Yep,

                      The amount of money spent by rich republican candidates on vanity campaigns could have been used to completely take over the media environment. But wasn’t even tried.

                      Kinda tells you the real priorities of Meg Whitman, Mitt Romney, Carly Fiorina, Linda McMahon and a number of other lesser business celebrities.

                2. Don’t forget, Paul has been a convienent (sic) foil to other Republicans. The media is happy to treat him fairly as long as they think he is not a threat to do much himself and is doing damage to other Republicans. The moment he becomes a threat they will turn on him.

                  So the new John McCain then?

      2. Agreed. I’d say this shows 61% with no direct or close, but indirect, interactions with the court system.

        Good news is that since the government is moving towards criminalizing everyone, that 61% will move lower and lower as more and more people are wrapped up in the court system.

        Bad news is – likely won’t matter except for polls.

        As what is this – the 6,789th? poll in a row which shows broad, strong, and super majority percentage disapproval of government.

        And what is the incumbency rate?

        Who runs Detroit?

    2. I though the courts were the judicial branch.

      Its a common mistake, these days, what with courts rewriting statutes and issuing directives to elected officials that go beyond “This statute/regulation is unconstitutional, and is hereby declared void ab initio. Period, full stop, we ain’t drafting any replacements for it or proposing any sub rosa amendments.”

      1. Nice explanation. Now do it in the style of grandpa Simpson.

        1. C’mon, man. Two proper uses of Latin weren’t enough for you?

          1. I guess I was being greedy, but you see I’m a libertarian so it is in my nature.

        2. …So I tied an onion to my belt, which was the style in those days…

    3. I though the courts were the judicial branch.

      You haven’t been paying attention.

  10. Americans trust their government less and less

    and re-elect everyone in it!

    1. They don’t re-elect everyone, just most. Of course it is not like the government itself hasn’t passed a bunch of campaign laws specifically designed to ensure that incumbents stay in office or anything.

    2. I saw a lady driving a SUV yesterday that had a sticker that read “re-elect no one”. I was tempted to wave but Florida Woman has a jealous streak.

      1. You should have waved if only for the promise of hot make-up sex later.

  11. Which suggests an opening for any politician who is both bold and humble enough to try?acknowledging that there are real limits to what government can accomplish, and promising to do fewer things, but to do them well.

    There is a future for a politician promising to do these things. I don’t think we have yet reached the point where there is a future for a politician actually trying to do these things.

    1. That statement is total wishful thinking on Suderman’s part. Sadly, the opening is probably for a politician promising to completely obliterate the other side and finally make things work again.

      1. I agree it’s wishful thinking. The last President who attempted to rein in the government in any way was Reagan (who, I believe was the last one to reduce the size of the Federal Register), and his accomplishments were marginal at best.

        The odds favor us getting a President who will at best simply slow expansion and at worst dramatically increase expansion in a slightly different direction.

        1. The problem is that the Left completely owns Hollywood and the media. It allows them to demonize anyone who is a threat to the status quo. So what happens is people want that guy but never can get it because whenever he comes along the Dem operative media and culture steps in to convince the public that the person is evil. So people are left with a lingering hatred and distrust of politicians and the current state of affairs but feel completely powerless to change it.

          IF things don’t change and we don’t get a decent President who really does some of what he promises and does make things better, things are going to start to get very ugly.

    2. Sadly true, I remember the gnashing of teeth and tearing of garments during the government shutdown.(partial shutdown of non-essential blah blah blah) I noticed the supposedly small government GOP and most of its voters in hysterics, and all I could think was ” Why don’t we permanently shut down all non-essential services,isn’t that what limited government is?

  12. Americans are quite fine with big, intrusive government.

    Oh, they might talk tough in some of these polls, but the DNA of this country is changing. And it ain’t moving towards the freedom and liberty column.

    Land of the free and home of the brave? What a laugh line that’s becoming.

  13. http://thinkprogress.org/justi…..s-in-utah/

    From the Dark Portal:

    For three days, police said nothing about the cause of the shooting while witnesses reported that he was running away as officers shot outside a Panda Express. On Saturday, police issued a brief statement saying he lunged at them with a sword. But Hunt’s lawyer says an independent autopsy shows Hunt was shot in the back and not in the front, and his mother Susan Hunt says the “sword” was a blunt-edged vanity version of a Japanese “Katana” sword he bought at an Asian gift shop.

  14. American’s hated big government so much, that when Obama did the healthcare thing, they were so pissed off, they re-elected him.

    Yeah, Americans are a real freedom loving crowd.

    1. Americans hate big government only when they don’t get free shit. It has nothing to do with socioeconomic status either. A lot of people upset with Obamacare are pissed that it wasn’t the free ride they were hoping for. But it’s little different than the 1%er who whines about taxes one minute but howls bloody murder if his subsidies are threatened.

      1. That is just it Susan, giving out checks is always going to be popular. But that is only one part of “big government”. The rest of it is really unpopular outside of our idiot top men elites.

  15. Which suggests an opening for any politician who is both bold and humble enough to try?acknowledging that there are real limits to what government can accomplish, and promising to do fewer things, but to do them well.

    And any such politicain would get stomped by their opponent offering MOAR FREE SHIT.

  16. I stopped trusting the American Gubment in 1979 when I was intentionally volunteered by my POTUS then Jimmy Carter, to do something completely and utterly against my grain. In fact it is anything but legal. So since then, no trust and all questioning!

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