The Obama Administration can insist that it's winning the war on terror and that the Affordable Care Act is working, but Americans don't agree. A new poll from the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research shows the majority of Americans (six in ten) have little to no confidence that the federal government may actually fix problems. The skepticism cuts across party lines. A trio of quotes from the AP:
"They can't even seem to get together and pass anything that's of any importance," said Doris Wagner, an 81-year-old Republican from Alabama who said she's "not at all confident" about seeing solutions in 2016. "It's so self-serving what they do," said Wagner, who called herself a small-government conservative.
In Texas, Democrat Lee Cato comes from a different political perspective but reached a similar conclusion. She allowed for "slight" confidence, but no more. The 71-year-old bemoaned a system of "lobbyists paid thousands upon thousands of dollars to get Congress to do what they want" for favored industry. "They aren't doing anything for you and me," she said.
Joe Flood, a GOP-leaning independent, said he sees government's inner-workings in his job as a federal contractor. A 49-year-old resident of the District of Columbia, Flood described the executive branch as a bureaucratic behemoth and the legislative branch as an endlessly partisan wrangle. "That's why government can't get anything done," he said.
People say this all the time. Heck, even President Barack Obama himself complained about bureaucratic red tape in his final State of the Union address, even though his administration has introduced tens of thousands of new regulations that contribute to the bureaucratic nightmare Flood is complaining about.
Though it may seem somewhat contradictory, the poll answers could help explain the popularity of strongman candidates with populist appeal like Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. While it's been common for candidates to try to present themselves as political outsiders no matter how much they've fed at the public trough, nobody has managed to ride that populist wave in recent elections like Trump and Sanders (even though neither of them are actual outsiders, either).
They're not promising to "reform" the system. They're promising to either bypass it entirely (Trump) or break it entirely and rebuild it (Sanders). They're promising to make big government work for their constituency.
For libertarians and small-government conservatives, this all seems nonsensical. It's the increasing size and scope of federal government power that causes both the heavy lobbying and the bureaucratic nightmares. The more the government can control what big business may and may not do, the more money those corporations are going to spend—indeed they more money they need to spend—to influence those policies in their favor. The federal bureaucracy defends itself above all things, as does any bureaucracy. It will always make sure there is more work to do and a that there is a need for an incrasing number of employees.
It helps explain why presidential candidates are so reluctant this election cycle to even suggest that there are things that they may not have the authority to do as president.
While it appears very much to be a call for bigger, stronger, more authoritarian government, there's a bit of a paradox here in the subtext. All three of the people quoted above seem to understand that the big government that exists is not working in their interests. The challenge is getting them to understand that this is the nature of big government and inherent in federal bureaucracy, and not because of a particularly special political dynamic that is in play just at this moment.
Read more about the poll here.