Poll: People giving up on Washington

An annual poll sponsored by National Journal and Allstate Insurance finds Americans losing faith in Washington to solve problems, while believing that state and local governments are better equipped to address important issues.

This attitude cuts across gender, education, socioeconomics, and even different regions of the country.  Even a plurality of Democrats favor state and local solutions to problems.

The preference for governance closer to home carries across ages and genders. Sixty-seven percent of men favored state and local institutions over national ones, compared to the breakdown among women of 61 percent for local and state level versus 27 percent for national. Poll participants who identified as Republicans expressed some of the least regard for leadership at the national level. Just 14 percent of Republicans said the national level was marching ahead toward its goals; Republicans, who have long advocated for a smaller footprint for the federal government, overwhelmingly favored the activity of state and local institutions.

But not all poll respondents disliked national level institutions and leadership in such an extreme fashion. The youngest generation, combined with the 60- to 64-year-olds, expressed the greatest amount of hope in progress at the national level. Thirty-one percent of adults ages 18 to 29 favored national institutions over local ones, while 34 percent of adults ages 60 to 64 preferred the national level.

Democrats also viewed the national and local divide in a less-skewed way, with 44 percent of them favoring national level leadership and 48 percent preferring local and state. African-Americans were the only group to praise progress at the national level more than at the state level; 50 percent of them preferred national level leadership and institutions, compared to 43 percent who preferred state and local.


The polling did not just show the lack of faith in national institutions and leadership; it also shows that people increasingly feel that the best solutions for the country's problems will come from local communities, state governments, and institutions. Sixty-nine percent of respondents said that state and local institutions—from governments to businesses to community groups and volunteers—offer the best new ideas because they were closer to the problems, more adaptable, and had a greater stake in finding solutions. Just 22 percent of respondents thought the federal government and big business were better equipped to solve the country's challenges.

Some smart Republican presidential candidate is going to tap into this motherlode and ride it to the White House.  If not, said candidate will have missed a golden opportunity.  This is conservative philosophy writ large across barriers of age, gender, class, and regional differences.  It is the essence of Russell Kirk's "voluntary community," where problems are addressed as close to home as possible.

One can also see innate support for the 10th Amendment.  The issue is clouded by liberals who scream "states' rights" at every mention of the 10th, thus obfuscating the need for local control by attaching visions of Jim Crow and racism to the idea.  But at least in the abstract, Americans seem willing to give more responsibility to the states.

Successful politics is about giving voice to the hopes and desires of the people.  The GOP candidate who can exploit these feelings and make them his or her own will have a leg up on the opposition in 2016.

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