American Trust in Government at All-Time Lows

The latest Gallup poll shows a record 81 percent of Americans are dissatisfied with the way the nation is being governed.

The latest Gallup poll shows a record 81 percent of Americans are dissatisfied with the way the nation is being governed.

Gallup’s Lydia Saad:

Majorities of Democrats (65%) and Republicans (92%) are dissatisfied with the nation’s governance. This perhaps reflects the shared political power arrangement in the nation’s capital, with Democrats controlling the White House and U.S. Senate, and Republicans controlling the House of Representatives. Partisans on both sides can thus find fault with government without necessarily blaming their own party.

The takeaways are all pretty scary:

  • 82% of Americans disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job.
  • 69% say they have little or no confidence in the legislative branch of government, an all-time high and up from 63% in 2010.
  • 57% have little or no confidence in the federal government to solve domestic problems, exceeding the previous high of 53% recorded in 2010 and well exceeding the 43% who have little or no confidence in the government to solve international problems.
  • 53% have little or no confidence in the men and women who seek or hold elected office.
  • Americans believe, on average, that the federal government wastes 51 cents of every tax dollar, similar to a year ago, but up significantly from 46 cents a decade ago and from an average 43 cents three decades ago.
  • 49% of Americans believe the federal government has become so large and powerful that it poses an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens. In 2003, less than a third (30%) believed this.

Politically speaking, this would seem to be bad news for incumbents and good news for Tea Party types. Societally speaking, this is just bad news, period.

That President Obama has low approval numbers (41 percent in the latest Gallup poll) is hardly surprising, given the state of the economy, the general mood of the country, and a perception even among his fellow Democrats that he’s a weak leader. But we’re at or near historic highs in disapproval of all our institutions of government. And the news media, too. Our political environment is simply toxic right now, with no signs of getting better any time soon.

Tea Party leaders, though, have to be ecstatic. With majorities believing that the federal government is simultaneously incompetent, wasteful, and dangerous, the message of radical downsizing and shifting of power back to the states is resonating in a way it hasn’t since before the Great Depression.

FILED UNDER: Environment, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics, , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Tano says:

    Americans believe, on average, that the federal government wastes 51 cents of every tax dollar,

    Would it be impolite to suggest that the average American is a moron?

    Or, more generously, is really into mindless ranting rather than insightful analysis?

  2. john personna says:

    I voiced a suspicion similar to this (below) in these pages. I was roundly criticized, and I thought “‘hey, maybe I did let my cynicism get out of bounds.”

    A couple of years ago, a Republican committee staff director told me candidly (and proudly) what the method was to all this obstruction and disruption. Should Republicans succeed in obstructing the Senate from doing its job, it would further lower Congress’s generic favorability rating among the American people. By sabotaging the reputation of an institution of government, the party that is programmatically against government would come out the relative winner.

    I think we have to accept it as part of the dynamic. The party of small government has become a champion of bad government, not just subconsciously, but as that quote shows, overtly.

  3. mattb says:

    @john personna:
    To some degree it seems to me that sort of tactic really began to pick up speed when Regan made the phrase “I’m from the government and I’m here to help” so popular — especially in conservative circles. It lets them set up government=liberal (versus “the people”) and then allows this sort of good for the party, bad for the people type of kamikaze politics.

    The other thing that seems to play a factor is media — not just in increasing the amount of information we have, and the spread of that information, but also in making us feel that our voices are not being heard.

  4. Sam says:

    Another reason to look at business leader Herman Cain.

  5. Sam says:

    Is this obstructing congress?

    “Through September 15, the Republican House had been in session for 120 days. The Democratic Senate through the same date had been in session only 115 days.

    In terms of recorded votes, the two bodies are as different as Times Square and the Everglades. Through September 15, the GOP House had voted 711 times. Meanwhile, across the same period, the Democratic Senate had only 137 recorded votes. So, the allegedly lethargic GOP legislators whose sloth dooms the nation actually are five times as energetic as their indolent counterparts in the Democratic Senate. ”

  6. john personna says:


    When I was a young conservative we liked it when congress was not in session, and in those days there was less wheel-spinning.

    Republican Obstruction at Work: Record Number of Filibusters

    So really, your worry about too few votes might be explained by too many filibusters, and of course “secret holds.”

  7. john personna says:

    Wikipedia has a good summary of secret holds, including a disturbing report that they continue, using “tag teams.”