Alternate headline: Americans finally start paying attention to the results of elections. Gallup’s latest survey on issue prioritization shows that a third of Americans now think the biggest public issue is the public sector itself:
Americans are now more likely to name dysfunctional government as the most important problem facing the country than to name any other specific problem. Thirty-three percent of Americans cite dissatisfaction with government and elected representatives as the nation’s top issue, the highest such percentage in Gallup’s trend dating back to 1939. Dysfunctional government now eclipses the economy (19%), unemployment (12%), the deficit (12%), and healthcare (12%) as the nation’s top problem.
Americans’ mentions of either the economy in general or jobs in particular as the nation’s top problem had already been declining in 2013. Both issues dropped further as top-of-mind concerns in the Oct. 3-6 survey, conducted in the midst of the U.S. government shutdown.
At the same time, the percentage of Americans who mention some aspect of government leadership as the nation’s top problem has doubled, 33% this month from 16% last month. This almost certainly reflects the current upheaval in Washington and party leaders’ inability to agree on a way to fund the government or avoid a possible government default. October is the first time since 2008 when an economic issue was not at the top of Americans’ list of most important problems.
Of course, this heightened concern comes at a time when the dysfunction is made clear, when the federal government has been partially shut down over a budget impasse. However, Gallup’s survey during the 1995-6 shutdown showed that concern over government dysfunction peaked at 17%, roughly half of what it is now. At that time, 28% of respondents thought the deficit — the issue on which that shutdown fight was based — was a bigger problem than dysfunction. In this case, deficit concerns are only about a third of that over dysfunction, and that plus health care still comes up short by nine points.
One point to keep in mind, though, is that “dysfunctional government” is a broad term without a necessarily specific application. Obviously, the dysfunction between Congress and the White House would be a major component of this concern, but it might not be all of it. One could argue that even after the shutdown gets resolved, the ongoing incompetence in ObamaCare exchanges might keep that figure high for quite a while longer.
This might be another explanation:
As we reported last Thursday, the historic Cliff House restaurant — a privately owned profitable business which sits on land controlled by the National Park Service — was suddenly ordered to close by the Obama administration on October 3.
Then on Monday, October 7, with little fanfare, Cliff House’s owners Dan and Mary Hountalas decided to defy the government’s closure order and instead re-open for business, to the delight of the hundreds of tourists and locals who dine there every day. When word leaked out that the Cliff House had re-opened, the local National Park Service office consulted with Washington, D.C., and then issued a second (and apparently firmer) order to the owners to re-close the restaurant; the owners were then forced to unwillingly comply for a second time last night at midnight:
The famed Cliff House restaurant has been forced to shut its doors for the remainder of the federal government shutdown, after it defied orders by reopening earlier this week.
Diners who learned of the new closure were none too happy, to say the least:
“That’s outrageous! Are you serious?” Hubbard said as she walked out of the restaurant, the sunset glazing the windows behind her. “It is very stupid! Why are people deprived of a job? Why do the rest of us have to stop enjoying the parks?”
Hubbard wasn’t alone in her outrage at missing out on the $10 endive salad or the $27 mahi mahi.
“You’re kidding me,” said Ken Evans, who was visiting from Visalia and stopped by the Cliff House to take in the view. “You know what, I would stay open if I were them. You can’t close these things down.”
As these intrusions become more malicious and arbitrary, Americans are going to come to the conclusion that we have too much government, not just dysfunctional government, and that will become more and more of a priority. The Obama administration is working its Big Government philosophy out of a job.