Why Don't Americans Trust the Government?

And what does this mean for the president's agenda?

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"By almost every conceivable measure Americans are less positive and more critical of government these days," finds a new Pew Research Center survey. Why so cynical? The report cites an under performing economy and "epic discontent" with Congress. How does this bode for the president's legislative goals? Here's what pundits on the left and right are making of the survey:

  • Americans Want Wall Street Reform but Not Much Else, writes Andrew Kohut, president of the Pew Research Center: "With the exception of greater regulation of Wall Street, there is less of an appetite for government solutions to the nation's problems—including greater government control over the economy—than there was when Barack Obama first took office."
  • Discouraging News, sighs liberal Steve Benen at The Washington Monthly: "For progressives, the results of the study may not be especially surprising, but they're nevertheless discouraging. One of President Obama's thematic challenges upon taking office was convincing the electorate that government activism can and should play a role in strengthening the country. That challenge appears even more daunting now, as more of the public opposes the idea of government action reflexively."
  • This Is Deeper Than Just Policy Specifics, writes conservative Ed Morrissey at Hot Air: "Americans seem to disapprove of government on general and philosophical bases rather than in the context of specific agencies.  Twelve years ago, Pew found that 50% of respondents felt that the federal government made a positive impact on daily life, with 31% saying the impact on daily life was negative.  Today, that has reversed to 38% positive and 43% negative, a 24-point swing.  For those who see government going off the rails, 50% blame inefficiency, but an increasing percentage — 38%, up from 29% in 1997 — say it’s because of having wrong priorities."
  • This Poll Is Bogus  Left-leaning Prairie Weather blog writes: "It's the problem with most polls now:  they measure 'opinions' based on second-hand, third-hand, and fourth-hand information.  By the time many Americans have an opinion, the opinion is based on he-said-that-she said-that-they-said rather than understanding and hard fact."
  • This Is a Message to the President, writes Conn Carroll at The Heritage Foundation: "President Obama has always tried to cast himself as a centrist... Unfortunately, President Obama has completely abandoned them by raising taxes on lower-income Americans, cutting defense spending, and enacting a $862 billion failed stimulus.And we haven’t even mentioned the President’s health care plan yet." This reaction is natural, adds conservative pundit Jennifer Rubin. "Hard to miss the message: a vast overreach by the Democrats has sparked a revival of the public’s distaste for liberal statism."
  • No It's Not, counters Derek Thompson at The Atlantic. He points to a decline in trust dating back to the '60s: "This poll isn't an outlying data point. It's part of an overall decline in government trust since the mid-1960s. The only time since 1975 that government trust broke 50% was in the months following 9/11. After the tumultuous assassinations of the 1960s, the Vietnam War, the resignation of President Nixon, and the stagnation of the late 1970s, public trust fell from 80% in 1966 to about 25% in 1981. Since then it's only peaked over 50% once, after 9/11."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.