GALLUP: Americans and Distrust of Government

By at 14 October, 2021, 8:45 am

by Raymond J. Keating –

Americans have a long history of understanding a need for government but also distrusting government.

During our history, at our best, American distrust of government springs from a recognition of the incompetence of government, the ease of corruption in government, the destructive nature of government, and the fact that as government expands beyond a certain point, freedom is diminished. As this relates to the economy, expansive government, with its increased taxes, regulations and spending, crowds out, diminishes and disincentivizes the entrepreneurship, the investment, the innovation and the work that drive economic growth.

Trust in Government Hits a Lowpoint

Gallup recently asked Americans about their trust and confidence in government dealing with problems.

On domestic problems, 39 percent had a “great deal” or “fair amount” of trust and confidence in the federal government’s ability to deal with domestic problems or issues. The same percentage of Americans expressed trust and confidence in the federal government’s ability to deal with international problems. In each case, as noted in the following chart from Gallup, these were either lows and near lows dating back to 1997.

Trust in Local Government Remains Higher, but Dropping

However, state and local governments fared much better than did the federal government. As noted in the following chart from Gallup, while trust and confidence in state and local governments’ abilities to deal with problems have fallen some recently, both score much higher than the federal government, with state government at 57 percent and local government at 66 percent.

This difference speaks to another longtime, healthy tendency among Americans, that is, to deal with problems as close to home, if you will, as possible.

The first being private action, next being local government, then the state level, and finally, federal activity when necessary. This not only reflects how our constitution generally works, but also allows for regional differences regarding views and needs on an assortment of issues, and avoidance of, or limitation on, one-size-fits-all, top-down dictates.

Of course, it’s not really clear from these numbers if the current skepticism of federal action springs from the healthier, long-run tendencies among Americans, or that more troubling, frustrated desire for more federal government intervention.

Raymond J. Keating is chief economist for the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council.


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