Turns out, Democrats don’t think the federal government is worth a damn under George W. Bush or President Obama, but they still want it getting ever bigger and imposing its shoddy solutions on every conceivable problem from now until the end of time. Super.
The percentage of Democrats expressing a favorable opinion of the federal government has declined 10 points in the past year, from 51% to 41%. For the first time since Barack Obama became president, more Democrats say they have an unfavorable view of the federal government in Washington than a favorable view (51% unfavorable vs. 41% favorable). Favorable opinions of the federal government among Republicans, already quite low in 2012 (20% favorable), have fallen even further, to 13% currently.
Pew notes that partisanship, of course, plays a role in the favorability ratings of the federal government, with Republicans rating it higher during the Bush years than Democrats, and vise versa during the Obama years. So, the president most marked by his advocacy of a federal government that can and should do pretty much everything is sitting atop said federal government…
However, there has been a steep decline in the share of Democrats expressing a favorable opinion of the federal government since Obama took office, from 61% in July 2009 to 41% currently.
According to Pew’s graph, that puts Democrats’ estimation of the federal government under Obama at about the same level it was during the last bit of Bush’s second term. Ouch. Their dissatisfaction no doubt has several factors— the critique from the Left that Obama’s not using his power to do enough, their general annoyance with Congressional Republicans, on whom the president is happy to blame, well, everything, and their anger at the fact that Obama seems so frequently foiled by them. This is where you see the frequent declaration that democracy just doesn’t “work” these days because it doesn’t allow the president of their choosing to do whatever he wants whenever he wants to. No one ever seems to stop to consider why the president of their choosing is so very bad at making things happen in Congress.
But hasn’t Obama’s go-to defense—nothing can possibly get done with my opponents in charge of one half of one House of Congress— always had the potential downside of an increase in nihilism about the federal government? As Democrats might see it, if the most inspirational orator in modern politics, the most intellectual man to hold the office in decades, a man of Ivy league insight and Hyde Park breeding cannot make the favored vehicle of Democratic policy work, what’s the point?
On the other hand, the marks for state and local governments remain high, with divided state governments getting the highest marks, across the board. (Again, how is it Obama has muffed a divided government that leans Democrat so thoroughly?)
Notably, politically divided state governments get positive ratings from members of both parties. In the 13 states with divided governments – those in which the governor and a majority of state legislators are from different parties – majorities of both Republicans and Democrats express favorable opinions of their state governments.
These numbers should be very good news for anyone who wants to push a “federalism” agenda. And Gallup also has found considerable – and growing – hostility to the federal government.
In other words, the American people are on our side. Or, to be more precise, they broadly realize that Washington has too much power and money.
Our job is to translate that sentiment into public policy.
It does sound like there’s an opening, here, for reaching Independent and Democrat voters who have heretofore casually believed that the federal government is the best and perhaps only vehicle for policy problem solving— an idea national Democrats are happy to perpetuate despite all evidence to the contrary. Advocating against a bloated federal government has never meant one must be anti-government, per se. It’s rather rational and evidence-based to argue that state and local governments might understand local problems more thoroughly, dispense money more efficiently, and be more accountable for funny business, since each representative would be more accessible and responsive to fewer constituents, and the press would be able to focus on a smaller amount of potential funny business. But our candidates have not lately shown a talent for making that connection and “translating that sentiment into public policy.”