Americans don't trust government. But they still want government to do a lot. | us news

Americans don’t trust government. But they still want government to do a lot.

23 Nov 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

5 reasons the 2016 GOP primary is a perfect storm for Donald Trump.

Only 19 percent of Americans — about one in five — say they trust the government “always or most of the time,” according to a study released by the Pew Research Center Monday. The anecdotal story of the 2016 Republican nomination contest is that an electorate frustrated with the party establishment is conferring its blessing on candidates with either a complete lack of establishment credentials or ones who’ve been explicit in denouncing the party. Yet clear majorities also favor the government taking “a major role” in fighting terrorism, responding to natural disasters, keeping food and drugs safe, protecting the environment, strengthening the economy and improving education.

Furthermore, the survey found Americans view elected officials as dishonest and selfish compared to “typical Americans,” and 74 percent said elected officials act in their personal interest rather than in the country’s interest. About three in four said government is “pretty much run by a few big interests looking out for themselves” rather than “run for the benefit of all the people,” and a similar share said the influence of money on the country’s politics has increased in recent years.

During the 2013 government shutdown the number of Republicans who indicated they were “angry” at the government crept up to 38 percent, the highest number for any party in decades. Those include “addressing issues ranging from terrorism and disaster response to education and the environment.” Eighty percent of “Republicans and Republican-leaning independents” said they wanted a smaller government with fewer services, compared to 31 percent of Democrats. Trust in government appears to have been higher half a century ago, at a time when the Cold War may have had more of a rallying effect on public opinion — along with the space program and high employment and general prosperity. In some ways, it seems, 2016 is a near-perfect blend of a number of long-standing trends among Republican voters that have led to an early primary process that strongly disadvantages the establishment.

Eighty-nine percent of all Republicans said they now never trust federal authorities, while 75 percent think the government is always wasteful and inefficient. As recently as the mid-1990s, large majorities in both parties and among self-described independents said they had “trust and confidence in the political wisdom of the American people.” That view started to decline in the early 2000s, but took a sharp drop starting late in the George W.

Confidence in government has clearly suffered over the ensuing decades, with Vietnam, Watergate, energy crises, various economic troubles, partisan gridlock in Washington and the recent frustrations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The trust level generally trended downward after the mid-1960s in the National Election Study, and in polls by Gallup, the New York Times and other news organizations, descending below 30 percent for the first time in the late 1970s. And yet, despite those multiple measures of unhappiness about government and politics in general, large majorities have positive views about much that the government does in specific.

This has been amply documented in public opinion research at least since Lloyd Free and Hadley Cantril’s classic 1967 book “The Political Beliefs of Americans.” They describe a public that is “ideologically conservative” but “operationally liberal” — a fact confirmed in recent research by Christopher Ellis and James Stimson. Large majorities gave positive marks to a long list of government agencies, starting with the Postal Service, which, despite being a butt of many jokes in popular culture, gets a positive rating from 84% of Americans. Eighty-one percent of conservatives think that they’re losing, versus 44 percent of liberals — the only group among which a plurality thinks that they’re winning. The biggest exceptions were, not surprisingly, the Internal Revenue Service and the embattled Department of Veterans Affairs, both of which more than half of respondents viewed negatively.

Respondents were evenly divided in their view of the Department of Justice, and by a small majority had a negative view of the Department of Education. GOP presidential candidates Donald Trump, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and Ben Carson get higher favorable ratings among Republicans who say they are angry at government than they do among other Republicans. The Pew survey took place from the end of August to early October of this year, a period during which the leading Republican candidate espoused both a strong anti-illegal immigrant position and a pessimism about the current position of the country. Among those who called themselves conservative Republicans or Republican leaners, 68 percent supported the idea of limiting how much individuals and organizations can spend.

There’s an operating theory of the Trump dominance, nicely articulated by 538, that it’s driven in part by the fact that the Republicans most engaged in the primary process right now are also the most politically active. Natural disasters: Government got its best marks in the latest Pew data for its performance on natural disasters, and setting fair and safe standards in workplaces. In 1996, a fifth of Republicans viewed government as the “enemy.” In 2015, more than a third do — while the number among Democrats remained the same.

Republicans are (perhaps unsurprisingly in light of that) more likely to say that ordinary people could do a better job than politicians at solving problems. Although the Pew study was focused on the federal government, it also found a majority of Americans, 56 percent, saying that large corporations have a negative impact on the country. Rubio’s campaign has hoped to be able to straddle the line between establishment and outsider acceptability, which it seems as though he’s managing so far.

The Pew data suggests that this is about an ideal moment for a candidate who can articulate a case to the Republican base that they oppose government and, even better, were never a part of it.

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