Americans’ Trust In Government Hits New Low

Today we’ll look at a couple of recent Gallup polls that should be interesting, regardless of your political stripe. Americans’ trust in the government to handle domestic problems has fallen to anew all-time low of just 38%.

Americans are a bit more likely to trust the government to handle international problems, but at45%, this is scarcely better than last year’s 43% record low. Both polls were taken in September.

Image1From 1972 through 2004, an average 69% of Americans had trust in the government to handle international problems and 62% to handle domestic problems. That period included the record-high 83% trust on international matters and 77% on domestic matters, measured in October 2001, shortly after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Although trust naturally declined after the 2001 peak, it had leveled off near the end of President George W. Bush’s first term. However, in Bush’s second term, in which he averaged an anemic 37% job approval rating, the averages fell to 56% trust to handle international problems and 52% to handle domestic problems.

President Barack Obama’s first term brought renewed trust in the government’s ability to tackle international challenges as he wound-down the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, the still-struggling economy further eroded Americans’ trust in the government to deal with domestic problems.

While the trajectory of these trust measures can be related to the president and his performance, it is important to note that confidence in all three branches of government has been declining in recent years – with 32% trust in the legislative branch, the lowest of the three currently.

Typically, Americans with a political party preference express greater trust in the federal government when a president from their favored party is in office, and this year is no exception. Democrats express much greater trust than Republicans in the federal government’s ability to handle both domestic and international problems. The fact that the Republican Party controls Congress appears to make little difference in how much Republicans trust the federal government.


Notably, Republicans make no distinction in the government’s ability to handle domestic or international problems — 25% say they trust it in each sphere. This was also the case last year, but in the first five years of the Obama presidency, Republicans were significantly more trusting of the government to deal with international matters than domestic ones.

Currently, independents, and Democrats especially, show more trust in the government on international matters than domestic ones. That has been the case throughout Obama’s administration, although the size of the gap has varied during this time.

Americans Believe the Government is a Threat to Freedom

Another poll Gallup conducted last month found that an alarming number of Americans believe that the government poses an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens. Almost half of those polled believe this.


The lower percentage of Americans agreeing in 2003 that the federal government posed an immediate threat likely reflected the more positive attitudes about government evident after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The percentage gradually increased to 44% by 2006, and then reached the 46% to 49% range in four surveys conducted since 2010.

According to Gallup, the remarkable finding about these attitudes is how much they reflect apparent antipathy toward the party controlling the White House, rather than being a purely fundamental or fixed philosophical attitude about government.

Interestingly, across the four surveys conducted during the Republican administration of George W. Bush, Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents were consistently more likely than Republicans and Republican-leaning independents to say the federal government posed an immediate threat.


This is the most interesting chart to me since it shows the two parties flipped their positionswhen President Obama took office! By contrast, across the four most recent surveys conducted during the Democratic Obama administration, the partisan gap flipped, with Republicans significantly more likely to agree.

Republican agreement with the “immediate threat” statement has been higher during the Obama administration than was Democratic agreement during the Bush administration, thus accounting for the overall rise in agreement across all respondents.

Overall, Americans who agree that the government is an immediate threat tend to respond with very general complaints echoing the theme that the federal government is too big and too powerful, and that it has too many laws. They also cite non-specific allegations that the government violates freedoms and civil liberties, and that there is too much government in people’s private lives.

The most frequently mentioned specific threats involve gun control laws and violations of the Second Amendment to the Constitution.


Notice that concerns about the environment and our education system rank at the bottom of such concerns.

I’ll leave it there for today.

Posted 10-08-2015 6:18 PM by Gary D. Halbert
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