Identifying and analyzing emerging trends in campaigns and elections.

Pew Study Shows Federal Government at All-Time Low

In Polling on April 16, 2013 at 10:56 am

The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press just released the results of their new regular study (from surveys conducted on March 13-17, 1,501 adults; and March 28-31, 1,001 adults) that questioned respondents on their views and impressions about the federal, state, and local governments. The favorability response hit a new low for the federal government, but the sentiment did not carry over to state and local public sector bureaucracies.

According to the data, only 28 percent of the respondents now have a favorable opinion about the federal government. In contrast, 57 percent have a positive impression of state government and an even higher 63 percent maintain an affirmative opinion about local government.

State and Local Attitudes

There are partisan divisions within the data, but they are almost solely reserved for the federal government. For the first time since Barack Obama became president more Democrats view the national authority in negative terms: 41 percent positive compared to 51 percent negative. Republicans continue to be almost unanimous in their unfavorable opinion about the US public sector. Only 13 percent of GOP respondents, according to the current Pew data, view the federal government approvingly.

But, these partisan splits are not evident when examining attitudes toward the states or localities. In fact, Republicans have a slightly better view of state government than do Democrats (57 percent versus 56 percent). Independents hold the best opinion, recording a 59 percent positive rating. Regarding local government, the respondents’ sentiments are even more positive. Here, it is the Democrats who rate the locals the highest (67 percent), followed by Republicans (63 percent), and Independents (60 percent positive).

Historically, the most positive view for the federal government came right after the Sept. 11, 2001 attack. After the World Trade Center tragedy, the federal government was given an 82 percent overall positive rating, including a 91 percent positive mark from Republicans. The slide began midway through Pres. George W. Bush’s second term and cratered at the beginning of President Obama’s second four years in office. Obviously, these numbers don’t include any reverberations as a result of yesterday’s devastating Boston Marathon bombing.

Regarding the state government questions, Republicans rated their own public institutions more favorably with a member of their own party in the governor’s office, as did Democrats. Interestingly, in the 13 states where their government is divided — one party holds the governor’s office with the opposite party controlling the legislature — respondents from both parties gave those particular arrangements positive ratings.

The Fed Standing

Clearly, a disconnect exists for the federal government compared to the other entities, and the period that we are now experiencing may represent rock bottom. When the Pew studies on this topic first began in 1997, the federal government favorability rating was a low 38 percent positive. It soared during the early part of the 21st century, as we described above, but now it has shattered all negative impression records. The study also tells us that the respondent pool was not anti-government, as evidenced by their opinions concerning state and local government.

It is likely, though not discussed within the Pew study report, that the partisan gridlock strangling Congress and the president, routinely portrayed so poorly during the 24-hour news cycle, contributes mightily to the federal government’s negative image. Legislative success on almost any front would likely begin to improve the institution’s standing.

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