Trust in Government

Record Number of Americans Call Government Our Biggest Problem

The socialist wave may be more of a media-bubble thing than any sort of legitimate groundswell.

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Reason

Everywhere you turn, you hear about the rebirth of socialism, right? Democratic presidential hopefuls such as Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and Kamala Harris, among others, are calling for massive expansions of the state as part of their platforms. This may not be classic, control-the-means-of-production socialism, but it's as close as we've seen in decades. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) belongs to the Democratic Socialists of America, which is seen as a rising power within electoral politics. A slim majority (51 percent) of millennials have a positive view of the term socialism.

Here's some cold water on the rising tide of socialism. Gallup reports that a record-high percentage of Americans consider the government as "the most important threat facing the U.S.":

Thirty-five percent of Americans name the government, poor leadership or politicians as the greatest problem facing the U.S. This is the highest percentage Gallup has recorded for this concern, edging out the previous high of 33% during the 2013 federal government shutdown….

Gallup has asked Americans what they felt was the most important problem facing the country since 1939 and has regularly compiled mentions of the government since 1964. Prior to 2001, the highest percentage mentioning government was 26% during the Watergate scandal. Thus, the current measure is the highest in at least 55 years.

Note, too, that this is an open-ended response, so it's not even the more-traditional form of the question that Gallup has been asking for decades. In that version, Gallup asks "which of the following will be the biggest threat to the country in the future—big business, big labor, or big government?"

Gallup

Gallup's pollsters write that what people mean by government varies by respondent:

Americans have different things in mind when they name the government as the most important problem. An analysis of the verbatim responses to the question from the latest survey finds that 11% of Americans specifically cite "Donald Trump" as the most important problem, while 5% name "the Democrats" or "liberals" and 1% "Congress." About half of those who say the government is the most important problem—18% of U.S. adults—blame both parties or cite "gridlock," "lack of cooperation" or the shutdown more generally. The latter figure has grown from 6% in December and 12% in January….

Federal government shutdowns have clear, negative effects on Americans' views on a variety of measures, including their general satisfaction with the direction of the country. But shutdowns aside, Americans' views of the government itself as a problem—rather than the means of solving problems—have increased over the past two decades. On one end of Gallup's 2001-2019 trend is the record low of 1% naming the government as the greatest problem, recorded one month after 9/11. On the other end is the latest 35%, as the longest shutdown on record left bad feelings on both sides of the political aisle.

If people are thinking Donald Trump or Republicans when they say government, perhaps socialism really is on the grow and will be widely embraced not just by Democrats but by the average American. Then again, increasing the entitlement state in a way that stops short of textbook socialism requires a lot of faith and trust in government. And there just isn't a lot of that to go around. I've documented before research that shows citizens counterintuitively demand more government when trust and confidence in government declines, but the sheer magnitude of, say, Bernie Sanders' platform is going to be a tough sell in a country where more and more of us are leaving established parties and identifying as independents.

It's possible that a plurality or even a majority of Americans will swoon after years of demonstrable incompetence and bad-faith dealing from both Democrats and Republicans. But it's not very likely.

NEXT: Tennessee Bill Would Restore Felons' Voting Rights

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  1. Why is Arthur C. Clarke on the cover of Reason magazine?

    1. That doesn’t look at all like Arthur C. Clarke. For one thing, there’s no small Sri Lankan boy sitting in his lap.

      1. Would you believe an angry Larry David?

        1. Pretty, pretty good.

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  2. “If only I had more bureaucrats putting their boots on my neck”!
    /said no rational person ever.

    ” If only I could put my boot on more necks”
    / Socialists

  3. No one is thinking about government when they go to the polls. They’re thinking about team and about soundbites and about likability and about haircuts and about what government is going to do for them. Okay, maybe government is in the mix there at the end.

    Anyway, where’s my word cloud of poll responses? I want to know if I’m in there anywhere.

    1. We voted for Trump to Build the Wall and Drain the Swamp.

      1. If I recall correctly Bush had us to into Iraq to drain a swamp and look how well that worked out.

        Seems like we might want to be a little more circumspect with some of these draining metaphors.

      2. and he’s done neither.

  4. Then again, increasing the entitlement state in a way that stops short of textbook socialism requires a lot of faith and trust in government. And there just isn’t a lot of that to go around.

    I’m not sure there isn’t significant overlap with the Democratic socialists and people who consider government the “most important threat facing the US. As Nick suggests, I think there’s a lot of compartmentalization going on with most Americans that allows them to identify with “socialism” while pointing to the government we have and declare it to be a threat.

    1. Nobody seems to understand that Ocasio-Cortez is not advocating socialism at all, she’s advocating a fascist economic order. She isn’t saying that the government should own all the means of production, merely control it by an infinite number of regulations.

      However, she does rightfully claim the mantle of Progressivism. The early 20th Century progressives were fervent admirers of Mussolini.

      1. I would argue she is pushing a sort of middle ground between socialism and economic fascism. Medicare for all is going to be socialist.

        1. Maybe not the Fascists, but the Nazis had medicare for all.

      2. That’s because they like trains.

    2. Yeah I’m afraid Nick has succumbed to wishful thinking here. The Democrats have pulled out all the stops on promises of free shit. Who doesn’t like free shit? I know I sure do. A lot of people think the problem with government is that they don’t get enough free shit. I know I could sure use some free shit right about now. The government seems to have plenty of free shit for billionaires. They just need to take that shit back and give it to me. For free.

      1. I don’t like free shit.

        That’s because it always comes with strings attached. Always. There is no such thing as a free lunch.

        Now if it’s Costco giving away a bite-size sample, the catch is that they want you to buy a box or bag of whatever snack you just tried, and you also better keep paying your annua membership fee or you won’t be allowed to shoot there.

        If it’s government giving away stuff, the catch is that they want to control you and run your life for you: just like your mom when you were five, except they don’t love you, they are not your mom, and you’re not five-years-old. Americans better wake up and realize that.

        1. *won’t be allowed to SHOP there.

          1. Thanks for clarifying; I was thinking “Shit, Costco has an indoor range? That’s great shit, even if you have to pay for it”

  5. Medicare 4 All
    – Green New Deal/climate
    – $15 min wage
    – Criminal justice reform
    – Free college
    – Break up biggest banks
    – Gender pay equity
    – Paid leave
    – ? Drug prices
    – Expand Social Security
    – Save unions
    – DREAM

    Huh, even for the socialsts immigration ranks at the bottom.

  6. The socialist wave may be more of a media-bubble thing than any sort of legitimate groundswell.

    Ya think?

  7. Both Sides!

    that’s the stuff. straight into my veins

  8. “Sanders’ 2020 agenda, per aides:
    – Medicare 4 All
    – Green New Deal/climate
    – $15 min wage
    – Criminal justice reform
    – Free college
    – Break up biggest banks
    – Gender pay equity
    – Paid leave
    – ? Drug prices
    – Expand Social Security
    – Save unions
    – DREAM ”

    A free unicorn in every house because ponies are just slackers!

  9. I think this cognitive dissonance is likely as old as human history. While I personally remember only back into my childhood in the late-’60s/early-’70s, I certainly recall public resentment of “the government”, tempered by the idea that “we just have to elect the right, non-corrupt, people”.

    I’m sure that if you go back to medieval Europe or Ancient Assyria, I’d guess that the same sentiment prevailed, albeit without the “election” part, substituting “if only the King had better ministers”, or “if only the Emperor would swallow his pride a bit, and properly appease the gods.”

  10. And if we elect a blatant commie instead of another furtive one like Obama that number will start reaching toward 100% in short order.

  11. “Thirty-five percent of Americans name the government, poor leadership or politicians as the greatest problem facing the U.S.”

    The government as an entity and poor leadership of that government are not the same thing.

    1. ^Exactly. I quit reading the article after that sentence. “Poor leadership” just means “my team isn’t in charge.” It’s along the lines of what Sarcasmic succinctly states, “Principals over principles.”

    2. I would argue that government and poor leadership, while not the same, are causes of each other in a feedback loop.

      This is because power corrupts. You give people power (which is what happens when they are in government) and they are corrupted. They want MORE power, so they make more government. With more government, there is then more opportunities for leadership and more corruption.

      It’s like people don’t realize “good leaders” are not good. Or at least they don’t stay good long once they get their hands on real power.

  12. Holy shit. Bernie Sanders actually said this back in 2016.

    So to answer your question, I would say, and I think it’s similar to what the secretary said, when you’re white, you don’t know what it’s like to be living in a ghetto. You don’t know what it’s like to be poor. You don’t know what it’s like to be hassled when you walk down the street or you get dragged out of a car.

    Poor whites don’t exist. Whites have never been hassled while walking down the street. No white person has ever been dragged out of a car.

    1. Well not in Vermont.

      1. Are there any people in Vermont that aren’t white?

      2. Racial/Ethnic Makeup of Vermont treating Hispanics as a Separate Category (2017)[91]

        White Non-Hispanic (92.79%)
        Black Non-Hispanic (1.24%)
        Native American Non-Hispanic (0.32%)
        Asian Non-Hispanic (1.78%)
        Pacific Islander Non-Hispanic (0.03%)
        Other Non-Hispanic (0.05%)
        Two or more races Non-Hispanic (1.89%)
        Hispanic Any Race Non-Hispanic (1.91%)

        I thought I was joking. Wow.

        1. Almost as white as Oregon.

        2. So… hispanic apparently is all that matters. People can self certify gender these days, so maybe I will start filling out forms as “neo-hispanic” and let the bean counters suffer a nice wtf moment trying to calibrate the associated geography for that.

    2. Incorrect Bernie. I attended college in VT. In 1968 a state trooper was “impolite” to me as a passenger on a motorcycle with a dim tail light. A couple of kids with long hair having a good time in VT were a target for an asshole cop. ‘Nough said. Never forget that one.

      1. That was around the same time as a then long-haired young Bernie was actually kicked out of a hippie commune because he did no work there but still expected his meals.

        If he had stuck around, the heat would have probably come around and hassled the commune members and he would have been there to see it.

  13. “An analysis of the verbatim responses to the question from the latest survey finds that 11% of Americans specifically cite “Donald Trump” as the most important problem”.
    So if we subtract Orange Hitler from the equation the percentage falls to 24% which is a lot closer to the historical average of this silly poll. Clearly Trump, not some libertarian moment, is driving the number to record highs. Considering the fact that the MSM has explained to us daily for over two years that Trump is the greatest threat to civilization since Noah and his incestuous family hopped on the ark to escape the wrath of God, I’m surprised the percentage isn’t larger.

    1. “Considering the fact that the MSM has explained to us daily for over two years that Trump is the greatest threat to civilization since Noah and his incestuous family hopped on the ark to escape the wrath of God, I’m surprised the percentage isn’t larger.”

      Getting stuck in a waiting room with CNN ‘all poopy head, all the time’ coverage is enough to wish you *had* carried to blow that screen apart.

    2. Odd thought, but here it is: what are you going to say if Trump gives up on the feckless gop, and declares himself a Libertarian?

  14. Meh. So 35%? The question is how does the 35% wacked out on TDS map onto the 33% upset during Obama?

  15. “Record Number of Americans Call Government Our Biggest Problem
    The socialist wave may be more of a media-bubble thing than any sort of legitimate groundswell.”

    Or, that 35% upset with the government is upset because they’re not yet getting their free shit.

  16. Unfortunately, many people who may be unimpressed with the current government want to “fix” it by expanding it.

    Even Bernie would fit into this category.

  17. I hate faux Cyrillic. Use a constructivist typography or just go with ???????.

  18. Guess again. The wages of open borders is socialism.

    PEW Research on Hispanic Americans, breakdowns by immigration and foreign birth
    https://goo.gl/WBi1BV
    Hispanics Lean Democratic over 3 to 1
    https://goo.gl/hxSJHi
    Hispanics Want Bigger Government Providing More Services over 3 to 1

    The trend is the same across immigrants generally.
    Import Not Americans, Become Not America.

    “Libertarian Moment”

    1. I would say the wages of open borders is accelerated currency debasement coupled with reduced average wages. The socialists love that combo as it attacks the middle class by default, but they ignore Milton Friedman’s logic at their peril: you cannot have a simultaneous open society and a welfare society. Mao knew that, and drew the curtains shut on China – and the world almost passed them by. I worry about our homegrown socialist nitwits: they don’t pay attention, and are dumber than a box of rocks.

  19. This is certainly not news to the right leaning side of the isle. Been saying that since Reagan was chasing Gorbi off the chessboard.

  20. An educated populous required for a democratic republic is lacking, nowhere in sight. Thus, the country as founded may be in jeopardy which is exactly where the Bernie bots want it to be. Exactly what Obama was striving for when he stated he wanted to fundamentally change America.
    So happy to be old and will likely die before the big change takes effect.

    1. If you value happiness, and you think death will bring it to you, what are you still doing here?

      1. Oh, what a question. You’ll keep them up all night with that. Here’s my take: people cling to one of two hopes. Either to take another bite of the apple, or see what blessing their creator might bring near them. That’s why “It’s only wafer thin…” is one of many peoples favorite Monty Python quotes.

  21. Only 35%?
    Sad

  22. If the government isn’t the biggest threat to the US, what on earth is? I mean, is anything else even close?

    1. Well according to one newly elected media star Democrat, the climate change is going to end the world in about 12 years.

      I wonder how many fukwads actually believe that?

      1. It only takes 5% to flush out the cash: politics is the realm of the agitated.

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  25. Eliminate corruption and it won’t matter what form of government we have.

    Isn’t that why everyone is a rabid partisan, because their favourite does a better job at controlling corruption and the opposition will let it run wild? Why do you care how your car engine works as long as it does.

    Lying is a prerequisite for corruption.

    Give everyone the voluntary human right to record our personal memories everywhere we go and corruption will have nowhere to hide. Once exposed, it is vanquished.

    We have the technology to do what people have prayed for since the dawn of time. The wheel has been dropped in our laps and we’re dragging it sideways.

    1. Actually, I’m after something more than a government that merely works. In fact, your statement that corruption needs to be eliminated seems to conflict with this. Since when does corruption not “work.” It works great for the politicians so why wouldn’t that be corrupt?

      No, libertarians advocate for far more than this. They seek a government that does not steal from or control the lives of its citizens. They want the government to act according to its legitimate authority and never step over its moral boundary.

      1. Are you actually advocating for corruption?

        What could be better than a life without corruption?

        Restricting reasonable freedoms is a corruption.

        Restricting corruption is reasonable.

        1. An honest, well intended, corruption free socialist government would still be immoral in many ways.

          It would be better than a corrupt socialist government mind you… But a libertarian leaning, and non corrupt, government would be better than either.

          1. I don’t think that anything free of corruption can be wrong, or immoral, by definition.

            Do you have any example of something free of corruption that is immoral to back up your argument?

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  27. The WHOLE poll results tells a better story —

    TOP Problems facing the nation
    1st (35%) Government
    2nd (19%) Immigration
    3rd (6%) Healthcare

    Yes, Its undeniable that the topic this month is our Government (Congress) has been entirely incompetent in its ability to handle basic immigration law due to leftist obstruction.

    Next month the poll will be entirely different.

    1. BUILD THE WALL! 🙂

  28. So moment, such libertarian.

  29. That headline is a desperate, but unconvincing, cry for relevance.

    One in three Americans claims to be worried about government? Nearly half of those Americans say it’s because they are troubled by Trump?

    Not a libertarian moment. Not even a faux libertarian moment. Not much of a moment in any respect.

    That wa fun. Now, for faux libertarians and other conservatives, it is time to get back to losing the culture war.

  30. I really appreciate the encouragement.

    Have a nice day, bro.

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  32. According to the chart in the article, 65% of the people are still in denial about government. That is what you should truly taking from that chart.

  33. So? A slim majority of mystical prohibitionist geezers has a positive attitude toward National Socialism. In fact, the two bands of socialist buffoons make many decisions as the LeftAndRight in These States. The rest are settled by libertarian spoiler votes.

  34. The numbers are probably good. The biggest problem I see is that the judiciary is running wild: they were supposed to be #3 on the totem pole, with congress wielding the bulk of power – the law begins and ends with congress, and without that there is nothing for a president to execute, or a court to consider, under threat of impeachment. Because the judiciary is effectively scores of fiefdoms, that kaleidoscope is a bit much for regular americans to keep track of. Congress should rediscover oversight, but… that might mean tearing down LBJ’s New Virtual Plantation. Oversight effectively ended with a whimper in the 60’s after HUAC showboated excessively in the preceding decade and shredded alot of due process – process we could have used to protect the nation from what is staring us in the face today: Bernie Sanders, and his communist sidekick AOC.

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  36. I would say, and I think it’s similar to what the secretary said, when you’re white, you don’t know what it’s like to be living in a ghetto.

  37. Bernie Sanders is an angry and pathetic old man. Constant anger has little or no appeal to most people, but is his anger because his socialist policies have failed everywhere???

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