I’ve written about this before. For many, it is a disappointing, even depressing state of affairs. I, however, welcome it as a new state of awareness the American people have about the reality of the federal government. The feds are just lucky they were so forgiving for so long. “I don’t wish crippling dysfunction upon our federal government, but since it brings it on itself at every, ever-loving turn, collapsing under its own hulking weight and hardened corruption,” I wrote upon a National Journal poll turning up this result in March, “I do embrace the raised awareness of Americans.”
Just 23 percent trust the federal government to do the right thing “at least most of the time.”
Twenty three percent! That’s unpopularity-of-Congress territory. Journalist-trust territory! Donald Trump’s approval ratings look down on those numbers!
Not surprisingly, how you feel about the federal government depends somewhat on your party affiliation. Twice as many Democrats as Republicans say they trust the government to do the right thing most of the time, a function of the fact that the “government” is currently represented, symbolically speaking, by a Democratic president.
Cillizza thinks the numbers would flip if a Republican were in office. They’d change a little, but surely we can agree that Democrats are more invested in trusting the federal government with every single decision. And, Republicans during the Bush years were never shy about bringing down Bush’s approval numbers with their disapproval of his insufficiently conservative agenda.
But what’s important is that this distrust of the federal government and preference for local and state government persists, just as with the National Journal poll, in every segment of the American people.
There are also a few intriguing demographic and age differences. Young people (age 18 to 29 for these purposes) are nine points more likely to trust the federal government to do the right thing than those over 65. Whites (19 percent) are the least likely race/ethnicity to trust the government; Hispanics (33 percent) are the most likely. People who live in urban areas (28 percent) are more likely to trust the federal government than those who live in rural areas (22 percent).
One thing that everyone — regardless of party, ethnicity, education level or anything else — agrees on is that state government is, slightly, better than the federal government and that local government is far superior to either of the other two.
Some segments are less inclined to distrust, but the numbers don’t get over 35. That’s deep in the red. Cillizza says this spells trouble for national politicians attempting to connect with Americans. Indeed, especially if they’re promising the exact same line about Washington fixing all their problems without first acknowledging this giant trust deficit. And, it’s another reason state leaders like, say, governors might be able to make a compelling argument on behalf of state-based solutions to a receptive audience in the coming election.
Then again, we are a schizophrenic nation.