April 19th, 2010
02:09 PM ET
12 years ago

Poll cites rising distrust of government in America

Washington (CNN) - Most Americans distrust the government these days, and the reasons have more to do with current economic and political conditions than personal ideology, according to polling by the Pew Research Center.

The results posted Sunday on the Pew Web site were similar to a CNN poll in February that found about one in four Americans trust the federal government to do what's right.

According to the Pew report based on polling conducted in March and April, the dissatisfaction is due to what it called a "perfect storm of
conditions associated with distrust of government - a dismal economy, an unhappy public, bitter partisan-based backlash, and epic discontent with Congress and elected officials."

Neither Republicans nor Democrats can be assured of gains from the discontent, according to the Pew report, which added that "favorable ratings for both major parties, as well as for Congress, have reached record lows while opposition to congressional incumbents, already approaching an all-time high, continues to climb."

The main Pew survey took place March 11-21 among 2,505 adults, with a margin of error of 2.5 percentage points. Three other supporting surveys of approximately 1,000 adults each were conducted March 18-21, April 1-5 and April 8-11, with all three having a sampling error of 4 percentage points.

According to the results, 22 percent of respondents said they can trust the government in Washington almost always or most of the time, which was among the lowest approval figures in a half century, according to the Pew report.

Congress received a favorable rating from 25 percent of respondents, the lowest such figure in a quarter century, the report said. The Obama
administration received a more positive job rating, with 40 percent saying it was doing an excellent or good job, it said.

A small but growing segment of the public holds intense anti-government views, according to the Pew report, with the number of respondents describing themselves as angry with the federal government doubling since 2000 to match the high of 20 percent last reached in October 2006.

"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 said.

No single factor causes the general public distrust in government, the report said.

"Distrust of government soars when the public is unhappy with the way things are going in the country," it said, noting the recent downturn in trust in government began in the fall of 2008, "when public satisfaction plunged amid the financial crisis. "

Levels of public trust also depend on what party is in power, according to the report, with Republicans generally more trusting of a GOP-led government than Democrats are of a Democratic-led government.

The polling also found that 62 percent of respondents believe the federal government's priorities are misguided, resulting in policies that "do too little for average Americans."

Filed under: Poll
soundoff (42 Responses)

    OBAMA, BIDEN, CLINTON, PELOSI, REID, ETC ON AND ON. Can you tell me CNN which to trust. Sorry Obama followers I have been a Democrat for fifty years but no more after this weekend and Bill Clinton's speech about the Tea Party people being Racist, Violent, brewing violence and such. HAS HE LOST HIS MIND? The Tea Party people are far from what he said. ARE COMMON PEOPLE JUST LIKE US. Not rich, except a few, middle class, poor AND FILLED WITH ALL RACES OF PEOPLE WHO ARE NOT FOOLS. YOU CAN'T LISTEN TO CNN, ABC, NBC AND THE LIKE WHO SAY THEIR THE MOST EDUCATED, RICH CLASS OF PEOPLE. THIS IS NOT TRUE. GO YOURSELVES AND SEE. BEHAVE YOURSELVES NO ONE IS OUT TO DO YOU HARM. THE TEA PARTY JUST WANTS A CHRISTIAN NATION. These are people who simply want a government that abides by our constitution. No more Federal Judges taking God out of Our lives, schools, government and anywhere else one can find God. Ignorance begets ignorance and this world has fast become an atheist nation. The Clintons for instance I made donations to them throughout their runs for Presidency and never had an inkling they thought this way. NOW THE TRUTH COMES FORWARD. SHAME ON YOU BILL YOU'VE LOST ME. NOW WITH OBAMA LOSING US ANOTHER ALLIE OF ISRAEL I AM THROUGH WITH HIM. HE IS A MAN OF CHANGE ALRIGHT. HE IS TAKING ALL US OLD PEOPLE TO THE KILLING FIELDS AND WE SO IGNORANT TO FOLLOW RIGHT ALONG BEHIND HIM. I am joining the Tea Party just like a whole lot more of my people have and yes we INTEND TO TAKE OUR NATION BACK. NOT BACK A HUNDRED YEARS AGO. BEWARE AMERICA BECAUSE TRAITORS ARE IN OUR MIST.

    April 19, 2010 02:57 pm at 2:57 pm |
  2. normajean

    I think it's a little broad to say we don't trust the government. I personally don't trust the "do nothing" Republicans and while still trusting the Democrats, I am frustrated at how long it will take to get our country back in good working order. I trust that we have an honest president who is fighting almost insurmountable odds trying to repair the damage done during the Bush administratiion. I definately cannot trust the repubs who have not only road-blocked everything being done, but are fighting to undo what has been done..I also can't believe that I was a repub a few years ago.What was I thinking? Or was I thinking at all.?

    April 19, 2010 02:58 pm at 2:58 pm |
  3. James

    As my grandmother used to say in the thirties after the Republicans took us into the great depression , she lived in the heart of the bible belt and attended church every Sunday, " never trust a Republican." Things havent changed much. Their tunges would snap off if they were to tell the truth , the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Both parties distort for their own good, how ever the extremist on the right have taken it to an all time low. We are now in the 21st century, and the extremist on the right are taking us backward. Jim Crow, Mcarthyism, Reagonomics, trickle down, deregulation . This never worked in the past why do you suppose it will work any better today. Isnt this the definition of insanity.

    April 19, 2010 02:59 pm at 2:59 pm |
  4. Victim of GOP Taliban

    That's an extremely vague poll as most people don't trust anyone or any organization in general, not ONLY the government. I trust the government a lot more than the private sector.

    April 19, 2010 03:00 pm at 3:00 pm |
  5. JS007

    These fools should have been distrustful when Bush was lying us into Iraq and selling the country down the river to corporations and to China. Now that Obama is President and trying to change things for the better the sheep are upset?

    April 19, 2010 03:02 pm at 3:02 pm |
  6. richp the poconos

    One question, name any government program that has been successful, that has not been mismanaged, stayed within projected expenses, accomplished what it was designed for. In short name any piece of legislation that either house has passed that has benefited the United States.
    So far just about every one has been an epic fail.

    April 19, 2010 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  7. shamgar50

    When you have groups like the Tea Party, and Republicans, Fox Noise, and Talk Radio, fanning the flames of hate, and ignorance, is it any surprise?

    April 19, 2010 03:06 pm at 3:06 pm |
  8. Santiago Matamoros

    Government is force. Government is violence. They have no other power but to use force and the power to say "NO".

    Government does not create jobs, but has always been an impediment to their creation. Government creates crisis after crisis, then blames the lack of sufficient government intervention for the inevitable result... as we are seeing now in the financial sector.

    An increase in government is an increase in tyranny.

    The Obama regime is making unprecedented dashes down the proverbial road to serfdom and Socialism that will tear the very fabric of our once great nation.

    The Obama team seems to think that the problems we face were due to unsufficient financial profligacy, insufficient government intervention and insufficient taxation. This gaggle of insoucient neophytes does not have enough economic and financial acumen to run a lemonade stand, let alone a stumbling superpower.

    April 19, 2010 03:11 pm at 3:11 pm |
  9. Robin in Tampa, FL

    I have a lot of faith in the President .... everyone else except for a few individuals I have almost no faith in.

    April 19, 2010 03:14 pm at 3:14 pm |
  10. John

    Wow, the current administration's campaign promises to bring this country together and build trust in government has really been going well. I am sure they will just blame it on the last eight years as an excuse for failing. The fact that I have never seen this country this polarized in my entire life is probably not relevant either...

    April 19, 2010 03:17 pm at 3:17 pm |
  11. Vic of New York

    The sad part is that the economy really is improving. President Obama really did reduce taxes for the middle-class (I'm one).

    He really is eliminating the Bush tax-break to the rich – that did nothing for this country other than widen the gap between the "haves" and the "have nots".

    The healthcare bill really will be appreciated in the years to come (except – as always – by Republicans. But ask them if they want to give their benefits back in a few years!).

    And Wall Street will finally be reigned-in after Bush and Newt Gingrich practically handed them the country on a platter.

    But hey, There's just no way to make some people happy...

    April 19, 2010 03:18 pm at 3:18 pm |
  12. Brian Nordin

    I love our government! That’s right, and I’ll say it again: I love our government! In this era where everyone seems to hate our government, I for one am standing with what I believe is the best government in the world; it is now under Obama and it was also under Bush and before him, Clinton. How can I say that? Well, let me tell you what my federal, state and local governments did for me today – and every day!

    The government provides me with the best roads in the world – no matter how small the town, I drive into it on a great road – and the interstates allow us to travel at 70 mph across the country!

    It provides me with the best postal service in the world. I can send an invoice or a letter and know with absolute certainty that it will arrive – even checks and money orders!

    It makes sure that I have clean air to breathe and clean water to drink – no matter where I am. And it makes sure we’ll always have those things to live.

    It makes sure that the food I buy is safe to eat; the drugs I purchase are what they say they are; that restaurants are clean.

    If I lose my job, get sick, get old – or all three at once, I can turn to the federal government and know that there are programs to help me when times are tough.

    If I’m attacked, I can call the police. If there’s a fire, I can call the fire department. And if I have a disagreement with my fellow citizen, I can trust the courts will hear my side of the story and will try to make a fair judgment.

    I can vote for whoever I want. I can go to whatever church I want to. I can write whatever I want in a newspaper or publish my own. I can own a gun.

    The list of what our government does for us is too vast to list here. I have been to other countries where the government is corrupt, under-funded, and inept – or all three! For those that hate our government, remember that our government is us; people just like you and me. If you hate the government, you hate yourself. In most cases, the vast majority of cases, people working in government are doing a tremendous job taking care of us, listening to us and working with us to make our life here in the United States of America the best life in the world!

    I love our government and I challenge anyone to show me a better one! And if you feel the same, speak out! The haters aren’t the only ones with something to say!

    Brian Nordin

    April 19, 2010 03:24 pm at 3:24 pm |
  13. Steve- Illinois

    How can anyone trust the government? The financial reform bill is a perfect example. Dodd, lies publicly about okaying the AIG bonuses, was involved in having banks make home loans to people that couldn't afford to pay them back, recieved a "cozy" loan from countrywide, and now he's the one in charge of "reforming" the system!!!! This is like having Ted Kennedy on the house ethics committee wearing his oxford shirt, no pants, and a life jacket! Comedy central couldn't make up the scenarios our politicians throw at us!!!
    The $50 billion dollar bail out fund in this bill, provided by the banks, paid for with customer fees, wouldn't be enough to bail out 2 big banks should they get into trouble again. Then what? Say "hello" taxpayers!!!!
    Career politicians have to go!!!

    April 19, 2010 03:25 pm at 3:25 pm |
  14. nameless

    after being told i was denied the making homes affordable program I will never trust the government to help me again. i complied with all their rules and requirements of me, paid my trial payments on time and has never been late on my mortgage, but now my credit is ruined because even though i paid the trial period payments on time BAC still reported my mortgage 120 days late.

    April 19, 2010 03:36 pm at 3:36 pm |
  15. Alan

    How could one not distrust government? All the secret deals, gifts to only certain states, coddling of certain senators over others? Is this the promised change? It isn't any specific administration that is to blame as many would have you think, including the current President. Our elected officials were sent to Washington to do the Nations business not their own little piece of it. States have their own avenues for that . Washington in general has failed to realize the simple truth that the end does not justify the means. If you are a hard working citizen, that pays your way, pays your taxes and is willing to adjust during difficult times , perhaps by taking a lesser paid position then show me one thing the the government has done for you without you paying for it. On the other hand if you are lazy, illegal, want something for nothing, won't work on any terms but yours , do everything but accept responsibility for yourself, your family or your actions then Whoa doggie!, you have just hit the government jackpot.. The rich and influential are also treated well (by all parties) as compared to the" poor old middle class" that always make up the difference. I am not saying that some folks don't need help from time to time but the truth of it all is that when only 50% of people in a Democratic society pay taxes==that society cannot be sustained. We all must do are HONEST not political part. Politicians are about nothing except perpetuating themselves at your expense. Think about it.

    April 19, 2010 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  16. nameless

    i love obama...but people hate him so much they'll do anything to get back at him and us innocent americans are paying the price. i've been unemployed since 12/2008 in nc, went on several interviews, but no call backs....unemployment is scheduled to run out soon and i don't know which way to turn next.

    April 19, 2010 03:39 pm at 3:39 pm |
  17. pat c.

    what government??? we have the democrats working hard to restore our country while the republicans have sat around openly stating they are not going to do anything as long as barack obama is president. in my opinion the repubs are stealing money from the american people every time they cash their paychecks. the bums need to be sent to arizonia with there long grim faces an be made to guard the border against the mexicans that mccain all of a sudden thinks should be stopped an jailed. at least they would be earning their paycheck. mccain should be the leader since he has gone from maveric to old, crumpy and just nasty. what a sight that would be. the poor mexicans would run back to mexico in sheer horror when running up against a bunch that ugly and crumpy.

    April 19, 2010 03:42 pm at 3:42 pm |
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