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poll pushback
Low Trust in Government Doesn't Spell GOP Victory

American trust in the federal government is at an all-time low. In a new CNN poll only 13 percent of respondents said they think the government can be relied upon to do the right thing always or most of the time. More:

“The number who trust the government all or most of the time has sunk so low that it is hard to remember that there was ever a time when Americans routinely trusted the government,” CNN Polling Director Keating Holland said.

“But polls conducted by the University of Michigan consistently found a majority of Americans in the 1960s and early 1970s saying that the government could be trusted all or most of the time – until Watergate. In 1972, 53% said they trusted the government always or most of the time. By 1974, that figure had plummeted to 36%, and except for a brief period of patriotic sentiment immediately after the 9/11 attacks, it has remained under 50% ever since,” Holland added.

This poll points to a general problem for liberal ideology. Unless government does its job very well—its various agencies working properly on their own and as a whole—the more tasks it acquires, the unhappier people become with its inability to deliver the services promised. In addition, the more important government action becomes to private interests, the more aggressively the private sector works to achieve “regulatory capture.” Meanwhile, the political system itself becomes so complicated that the public comes to feel that it does not understand what is going on inside its own government. Politicians also lose sight of how the system works and how its interlocking parts affect one another.

But this poll isn’t just a challenge to liberalism. CNN also found low trust in big business (17 percent compared to the government’s 13 percent). When people trust neither government nor business, most prefer to give government the power edge as a counterweight to an aggressive private sector. When you add to that factor the widespread American fondness for “free stuff” handed out by government, it seems clear that these gloomy poll results don’t spell a retreat from liberalism.

These results aren’t a GOP dream come true. Rather, they are a symptom of a gridlocked and frustrated society. They don’t point the way to a solution, and especially not to the “libertarian moment” that some people would like to read into them. 

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  • Andrew Allison

    I find it interesting that the poll focuses on the impact of Watergate given the non-stop scandals emanating from the current administration. You don’t think the sorry list at might have something to do with it?

    • Pete

      “today’s report that the much-heralded decline in joblessness has been accompanied by a 23% decline in wages should scare the Democrats witless. ”

      As if that pathetic, leaching bunch ever had any wits to lose.

  • Anthony

    “For roughly three decades, from the New Deal of the mid-1930s to the War on Poverty of the mid-1960s, the federal government steered the national economy as a relatively trusted and respected instrument of democratic power. The federal government led America through depression, war, and peacetime boom. The federal government conceived and financed the national highway system and the national power grid. Science and technology (S&T) initiatives created in Washington helped launch several of the most important technologies of the past half century: nuclear power, satellites, computers, the Internet, and much more. The federal government fought poverty and exclusion, culminating in the 1960s in Medicare for the elderly and civil rights legislation on behalf of minorities, women, and the disabled. When necessary, as in World War II, the government mobilized industry, putting it at the service of the nation. More often, it partnered effectively with industry in starting new industries (such as computers and the Internet) or expanding them (such as aviation and satellites). There was no question, however, about who was in the lead of the relationship.”

    The above is intended as an observation, neither reflective pro or con on low trust in government; but since the early 1980s our national life has been one constant barrage that government is the problem not the solution (or part thereof) to America’s ills. To this end, poll number of 13% ought not be surprising.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    “These results aren’t a GOP dream come true. Rather, they are a symptom of a gridlocked and frustrated society.”

    You point out the gridlocked and frustrated society, without pointing out that all such situations eventually end. And it’s how they end that’s important, not the stagnation of the moment. I see both the Democrats and the establishment Republicans on the defensive in the this election, with the TEA Party taking seats from both groups and increasing in power by a significant percentage. When the TEA Party gains sufficient power, it will cut both Big Government and crony capitalist Big Business, which are represented by both the Democrats and establishment Republicans.
    All reports that the TEA Party is dying or in decline are refuted by its strong and steady growth, and the actual power lost by the Democrats and establishment Republicans. The MSM has been crowing over the survival of a few heavily entrenched incumbents that have massively out spent their TEA Party backed challengers. The fact that they survived is less important than the extreme lengths they needed to do so. It also ignores the many open seats and Democrat incumbents that are under assault from TEA Party candidates this election. If there is one fact about this election that is clear, it is that the TEA Party will be victorious, and the only question is how big their win will be.

    • rheddles

      Rather the TEA party will be victorious and the only question is how long it will take. There’s lots of well attached barnacles of many species slowing the ship of state. It will take a long time to clean the hull. And it had to be done one parasite at a time.

  • Boritz

    How would a Marine drill instructor score on a popularity contest among his recruits? &nbspAll the complaining in the world still leaves him firmly in charge. &nbspIt doesn’t really matter. People are unhappy or “disappointed” (the progressive word of choice at the moment) with just about everything but complaining and driving ultimately meaningless polls down is the totality of how they react.

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