The Pew Research Center released a study today that showed that Americans’ trust in government is nearing historic lows. According to the study, the only time trust in government was lower than it is now was in the first few years of the Clinton presidency. And some of the statistical changes shown in the study are pretty amazing. For example, within just the last year favorable opinions of Congress have declined from 50 percent to 25 percent.
I heard a report on the study as I drove to work this morning. I got the impression that the results were a bit of a surprise to the interviewer and the Pew Reseach Center person being interviewed. I don’t know why these results would surprise anyone. There clearly is a lot of brooding discontent among Americans, and anyone who hasn’t noticed it just isn’t paying attention.
As the Pew study indicates, when times are tough people are bound to lose faith in the government and other institutions. I also think, however, that a number of other recent factors have contributed to the decline. First, many people had high hopes that President Obama would change the way Washington, D.C. operates. That hasn’t happened, obviously, and people who are disappointed are apt to be mistrustful. Second, we are now getting more information about how politics works than ever before, and it is not a pretty picture. When Americans learn about the corrupt political practices that were employed to get the “health care reform” legislation passed, it is bound to reduce public trust in government. How can you trust government to make the right decision if it seems like every Member of Congress is basing their decision not on the merits of the proposal, but on whether they received a special deal sufficiently lucrative to buy their vote? Third, there is a strong perception that the wishes of ordinary Americans are being ignored. Congress enacted the “health care reform” legislation despite overwhelming opposition from the American public. Although Americans clearly care most about jobs and the economy, that issue seems to have received short shrift from both the President and Members of Congress. Why should you trust government if government seems completely clueless about the issues that are of paramount concern to average Americans?