Washington Only 22 percent of all Americans surveyed say they trust the government in Washington almost always or most of the time — among the lowest measures in half a century — according to a new Pew Research Center survey released Sunday night.
The results point to “a perfect storm” of public unrest, Pew reports, “a dismal economy, an unhappy public, bitter, partisan-based backlash and epic discontent with Congress and elected officials.”
Growing numbers of people want government’s power curtailed, Pew reports of a mid-April survey that found “less of an appetite for government solutions to the nation’s problems — including more government control over the economy — than there was when (President) Barack Obama first took office.”
“The public’s hostility toward government seems likely to be an important election issue favoring the Republicans this fall,” Pew reports. “However, the Democrats can take some solace in the fact that neither party can be confident that they have the advantage among such a disillusioned electorate.”
There have been political ramifications in the past when the public mood grew this sour: In 1980, Ronald Reagan unseated President Carter. In 1994, the GOP won control of the House.
The current level of public skepticism was matched previously only in the periods leading up to both events — from 1992 to 1995 (reaching a low of 17 percent trust in government in the summer of 1994), and from 1978 to 1980 (bottoming out at 25 percent in 1980).
When the National Election Study first asked the question in 1958, 73 percent of Americans said they trusted the government to do what is right just about always or most of the time.
“The current survey and previous research have found that there is no single factor that drives general public distrust in government,” Pew reports. “Instead, there are several factors — and all are currently present. First, there is considerable evidence that distrust of government is strongly connected to how people feel about the overall state of the nation. Distrust of government soars when the public is unhappy with the way things are going in the country.”
The downward trend began in fall 2008, Pew says. The poll identified a combination of factors that contributed to the electorate’s hostility: the recession that Obama inherited from President George W. Bush; a dispirited public; and anger with Congress and politicians of all political leanings.
Andrew Kohut, director of the nonpartisan center that conducted the survey, said, “Politics has poisoned the well.”