Americans may be fed up with national politics and the paralysis in Washington, but that does not mean that they've given up on finding solutions to the country's most vexing social and economic problems.
Instead, Americans increasingly are turning toward community organizations, small businesses, and local governments for fixes, according to the recent Heartland Monitor Poll, conducted in partnership with Allstate and National Journal. In doing so, they are upending the long-held notion that only the federal government has the ingenuity and resources to solve the big questions.
After all, that has long been the stance of Americans and policymakers—to turn to the federal government when something major goes wrong: when the economy sours, the housing bubble bursts, or when millions of Americans find themselves unemployed. That reflex makes sense. Federal government policies provided unemployment benefits to millions of Americans when companies shed jobs in 2009. Going further back, the federal government's mortgage giants helped to foster in this country a culture of homeownership, something deeply ingrained not just in our economy, but in our notion of the American Dream.
But recent battles over national politics, government spending, and the future direction of the country have turned off Americans from federal-level solutions, according to national polling data. Now, Americans are looking locally for ideas of ways to improve their lives. Of the 1,000 Americans surveyed by the Heartland Monitor Poll, 32 percent of them attributed improvements in their local area over the last 10 years to businesses; another 30 percent gave credit to community groups. Just 15 percent said that government policies helped to make life better. (To be fair, both Democrats and African-Americans expressed roughly the same amount of confidence in government policies that they held in local businesses and community groups).