More than eight of every 10 Americans say they have “very little” or only “some” confidence in the federal government, according to a poll released Tuesday by the Council for Excellence in Government, a non-profit think tank here.
The study showed state and local governments also inspire little faith, with 76 percent of those polled saying they have only some or very little trust in states and 67 percent saying the same thing about local governments.
The survey, conducted by wellknown pollsters Peter D. Hart and Robert M. Teeter, queried 1,003 people nationwide and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.2 percentage points.
The poll ranked the three levels of government among six national institutions.
Survey respondents reserved their highest approval for the military, with 59 percent saying they had a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in it. Organized religion won similar high approval from 56 percent. Local governments were rated high by only 31 percent; state governments, by 23 percent; the media, 19 percent; and the federal government came in last with a mere 15 percent.
“At this stage the public is saying government is not an ally. Indeed, it is an enemy,” Hart said.
When the pollsters asked what bothered respondents most about the federal government, they cited dishonest politicians, mismanagement, taxes, reckless spending and bureaucracy.
When people were asked the same question about state governments, they answered taxes, schools, dishonest politicians, inattention and ineffectiveness, the poll said.
The figures confirm other studies showing the public’s low esteem for government, said Charles O. Jones, a University of Wisconsin professor of political science who is a visiting scholar at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.
“There’s just so much hostility or at least a fair amount of doubt of the ability of the government to deal with things,” Jones said.
Teeter, a long-time Republican pollster, said the survey shows that people believe lower levels of government would run programs more efficiently. “There certainly is a very strong view now that we ought to push decision-making down to a lower level,” Teeter said.The poll shows that, despite their
wariness of government in general, 75 percent of those surveyed said they favor shifting more federal responsibilities to the states.