Mistrust of Government Growing

Mistrust of government is growing, reaching levels only seen twice in the last half-century, a phenomenon that could pay dividends for Republicans in November’s midterm elections, according to a Pew Research Center survey.

Today, just 22 percent of Americans believe that the federal government does what’s right “just about always” or “most of the time.” That is just above the previous low of 17 percent recorded in the summer of 1994. Later that year, Republicans would go on to win 54 seats in the House and retake power in the lower chamber for the first time in 40 years.

“The forces contributing to the current wave of public distrust include an uncertain economic environment, overwhelming discontent with Congress and elected officials, and a more partisan environment,” the report says.

When the survey question was first asked in 1958, the vast majority of Americans believed that the federal government did the right thing most of the time. Back then, 73 percent of Americans said that they believed that the government did what’s right “just about always” or “most of the time.”

Mistrust of government is evident at all levels – federal, state and local. But, no group is viewed as unfavorably as Congress. The poll found that only 17 percent of Americans believe that Congress is doing an excellent or good job.

While the president is not nearly as unpopular as his former colleagues at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, his approval ratings have taken a hit as anti-government sentiment around the country grows. Just 40 percent of respondents said that the president is doing a good or excellent job.

While not confined solely to Republicans, the anti-government views are more likely to be found among those on the right of the political spectrum.

“Intense anti-government sentiment is highly concentrated among certain groups – Republicans, independents and others who lean Republican, and those who agree with the Tea Party movement,” the report says.

The intensity of that sentiment is evident in the poll results. Nearly one in three Americans – 30 percent – believe that the federal government poses a personal threat to their freedom. 43 percent of respondents said that the federal government has a negative impact on their lives.

One of the most paradoxical findings in the survey was that while most believe that the government has meddled too much into the free market, the majority of Americans want more regulation of financial institutions. The poll found that 58 percent believe that the government has intruded too much into the nation’s economy, but 61 percent want the government to intrude into the economy to regulate Wall Street.

Anger, mistrust and disillusionment are not confined to just government institutions or figures. Banks, large corporations, the news media, unions and the entertainment industry all received very low scores from the American public. The entertainment industry has the highest favorable rating of just 33 percent.

The growing anti-government sentiment on the right is creating a significant enthusiasm gap between Democrats and Republicans, which could prove to be costly for Democrats in November. Republicans, increasingly discontented with the government, are more likely to show up at the polls to vote in the midterm elections.

“Broad public frustration with government and politics is likely to play a major role in the midterm congressional elections this fall, and all signs suggest it benefits the Republican Party,” the report says. “In particular, seven months before the midterm elections, anti-incumbent sentiment has reached record levels, and anti-government sentiment is energizing many Republican-inclined voters.”

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