Trusted and Mistrusted Governments

I have previously written about the September Gallup Poll, which shows that trust in the federal government is at a historic low.  This distrust shows up in the poll numbers in several ways.  The percentage of Americans who have “No trust at all” in “The Executive Branch headed by the President” is a stunning 28% – the highest ever recorded, trumping even Nixon at the bottom of the Watergate debacle.  The percentage of Americans who express “A great deal of confidence” in the president is only 14%, which could mean that everyone outside black America has no real trust in Obama.

Another Gallup story, based upon the same poll, shows that the confidence Americans have in the federal government handling domestic problems is incredibly weak.  The overall positive rating given by Americans in this poll is 40%, the lowest level of confidence ever recorded.  The percentage of Americans who have “No confidence at all” in this area is also a record 17%.

So does this mean that Americans do not trust government in the areas of domestic policy?  Interestingly, it doesn’t.  Gallup posted a story on September 23, using the same September 4 poll results, which show that Americans have a great deal of trust in local government.  In fact, the percentage of Americans who say that they have “A great deal” of trust and confidence in local government is 24%, the highest ever recorded in the forty-two years of this Gallup question being asked.  The overall positive rating – those who have “A great deal” or “A fair amount” of confidence and trust in local government – is 72%.  This is not the highest percentage ever recorded, but it is among the highest levels of trust expressed for local government.

The level of trust and confidence Americans express in state governments is lower, but it is still relatively high.  Those who express “A great deal” of trust and confidence in state government is 19%, the second-highest level Gallup has reported, although the 14% who express “None at all” as their level of trust in state government are also among the highest ever recorded.  The cumulative positive rating – “A great deal” or “A fair amount” of trust in state government – is 62%, about average over the decades for this area.

What is interesting is to compare how the three levels of government fare next to each other.  Assuming that the federal government handling domestic problems is equivalent to state and local governments (who handle only domestic problems), here are the percentages of Americans who have “A great deal” of trust in each level of government:  federal 8%, state 19%, and local 24%.  Here are the percentages of Americans who have an overall positive trust in each level of government handling domestic problems: federal 40%, state 62%, and local 72%.  The levels of “None at all” (i.e., trust to handle domestic problems) show the same pattern: federal 17%, state 14%, and local 8%.

The pattern is clear.  Governments in which officials live in the same city or county as the people they govern are trusted by voters more than those legislators and statewide elected officials whose legislators live part of the time in the state capital and the rest of the time among the voters.  These state politicians, however, are trusted by voters far more than those Washingtonians with only notional connections to "their" states, like Mary Landrieu, whose residency in Louisiana is so tenuous that she is being forced to defend it during her re-election battle.  Many of our “elected officials” in Washington spend almost no time at “home,” except during elections. 

Their children go to private schools around Washington.  Their true homes are in the super-rich environs of Virginia and Maryland surrounding the District of Columbia.  Their future career plans involve lobbyists and law firms in our nation’s capital; their whole lives are submerged in this artificial life.  No one really trusts them anymore.

Compare this imperial government to our local governments.  Not only do the children of local councilmen go to school with our kids and their wives shop at supermarkets with our wives and their families go to churches with our families, but local governments must compete with other local governments for businesses and for property values and for quality of life.  The policy decisions they make affect them personally, and, critically, bad governance drives business and homeowners to the many other cities and communities who are happy to compete with them in the marketplace of government.  Truly rotten local governments (Detroit is a perfect example) drive money and power away, but the federal government can fail with appalling malfeasance, and we can do nothing (as witnessed recently in the VA horrors.)

The problem in American politics is not so much government as it is the federal government.  The problem, of course, is Washington.

I have previously written about the September Gallup Poll, which shows that trust in the federal government is at a historic low.  This distrust shows up in the poll numbers in several ways.  The percentage of Americans who have “No trust at all” in “The Executive Branch headed by the President” is a stunning 28% – the highest ever recorded, trumping even Nixon at the bottom of the Watergate debacle.  The percentage of Americans who express “A great deal of confidence” in the president is only 14%, which could mean that everyone outside black America has no real trust in Obama.

Another Gallup story, based upon the same poll, shows that the confidence Americans have in the federal government handling domestic problems is incredibly weak.  The overall positive rating given by Americans in this poll is 40%, the lowest level of confidence ever recorded.  The percentage of Americans who have “No confidence at all” in this area is also a record 17%.

So does this mean that Americans do not trust government in the areas of domestic policy?  Interestingly, it doesn’t.  Gallup posted a story on September 23, using the same September 4 poll results, which show that Americans have a great deal of trust in local government.  In fact, the percentage of Americans who say that they have “A great deal” of trust and confidence in local government is 24%, the highest ever recorded in the forty-two years of this Gallup question being asked.  The overall positive rating – those who have “A great deal” or “A fair amount” of confidence and trust in local government – is 72%.  This is not the highest percentage ever recorded, but it is among the highest levels of trust expressed for local government.

The level of trust and confidence Americans express in state governments is lower, but it is still relatively high.  Those who express “A great deal” of trust and confidence in state government is 19%, the second-highest level Gallup has reported, although the 14% who express “None at all” as their level of trust in state government are also among the highest ever recorded.  The cumulative positive rating – “A great deal” or “A fair amount” of trust in state government – is 62%, about average over the decades for this area.

What is interesting is to compare how the three levels of government fare next to each other.  Assuming that the federal government handling domestic problems is equivalent to state and local governments (who handle only domestic problems), here are the percentages of Americans who have “A great deal” of trust in each level of government:  federal 8%, state 19%, and local 24%.  Here are the percentages of Americans who have an overall positive trust in each level of government handling domestic problems: federal 40%, state 62%, and local 72%.  The levels of “None at all” (i.e., trust to handle domestic problems) show the same pattern: federal 17%, state 14%, and local 8%.

The pattern is clear.  Governments in which officials live in the same city or county as the people they govern are trusted by voters more than those legislators and statewide elected officials whose legislators live part of the time in the state capital and the rest of the time among the voters.  These state politicians, however, are trusted by voters far more than those Washingtonians with only notional connections to "their" states, like Mary Landrieu, whose residency in Louisiana is so tenuous that she is being forced to defend it during her re-election battle.  Many of our “elected officials” in Washington spend almost no time at “home,” except during elections. 

Their children go to private schools around Washington.  Their true homes are in the super-rich environs of Virginia and Maryland surrounding the District of Columbia.  Their future career plans involve lobbyists and law firms in our nation’s capital; their whole lives are submerged in this artificial life.  No one really trusts them anymore.

Compare this imperial government to our local governments.  Not only do the children of local councilmen go to school with our kids and their wives shop at supermarkets with our wives and their families go to churches with our families, but local governments must compete with other local governments for businesses and for property values and for quality of life.  The policy decisions they make affect them personally, and, critically, bad governance drives business and homeowners to the many other cities and communities who are happy to compete with them in the marketplace of government.  Truly rotten local governments (Detroit is a perfect example) drive money and power away, but the federal government can fail with appalling malfeasance, and we can do nothing (as witnessed recently in the VA horrors.)

The problem in American politics is not so much government as it is the federal government.  The problem, of course, is Washington.