February 3, 2023

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Pew sees US confidence in government near "historic lows".

Pew sees US confidence in government near “historic lows”.

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Uncle Sam is not a trustworthy man.

It was in 1964, when Americans gave the government a positive rating of 77 percent.

Since then, public confidence has fallen to an alarming 20 percent, “Near historic lows,” according to Pew Research Center report released this week. Unfortunately, this low approval rating reflects “decades of distrust,” the report said, and “a sentiment that has not changed much since former President George W. Bush’s second term.”

However, the unsettling picture painted by the vast bush obscures points of appreciation and hope.

Pew found that “Americans’ resentment of government has long coexisted with their continued support for government, which plays a fundamental role in many areas.”

A large majority say the government is doing too little on issues that affect certain groups, including low- and middle-income people and retirees.

Trust in government increases not only when government works better, but also when people have a better understanding of what government does, according to Theresa W. Gerton, president and CEO of the National Academy of Public Administration, a nonpartisan congressional think tank.

She praised President Biden management agenda “For its focus on improving the customer experience for critical life events, improving performance and delivering government services.”

Of course, this wouldn’t be America without a partisan divide.

“Republicans are less likely than Democrats to favor a major role for government in most areas,” the Pew report says, adding that “this is particularly the case – and increasingly – for poverty alleviation.”

The poll questioned whether the government should play a “major role” in 12 areas. Helping people out of poverty was the last, with a slim majority of 52 percent agreeing with it. Counter-terrorism ranked first with 90%.

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There are also racial and ethnic differences.

The vast majority of black, Asian and Hispanic respondents said that “the government should do more to solve the problems”. But just over half of the whites said that “government does many things that are best left to companies and individuals.”

Unfortunately, the public has little faith in elected officials to fix the error.

Pew reports that about two-thirds of adults, “including nearly identical shares in both parties,” said most people who seek elected office at all levels “do so in their own self-interest.”

The public trusts professional federal employees much more than political appointees, but this is declining. The Feds’ 52 percent confidence rating for professionals has fallen nine points since 2018. That’s still well above the 39 percent rating for appointees.

The speeches of Donald Trump, who was president in 2018, did nothing to improve this confidence. His stance and tone became entrenched during his campaign with his calls forswamp drainIn Washington, the federal government took a personal line. His policies, particularly regarding federal labor unions, put that rhetoric into practice. Republicans’ accusations of a “deep state” conspiratorial within the government to thwart Trump encouraged a distrust of the government and its workers.

Uncle Sam got some love from the pollsters at the Pew Center. A strong majority, from 64 percent to 70 percent, says government is fairly or very good at responding to natural disasters, preventing terrorism, ensuring safe food and medicine, and setting fair and safe standards in the workplace.

Notably, “the only region where there is a much larger percentage of Republicans [47 percent] Rate the job the federal government does more favorably than Democrats [36 percent] on environmental protection,” Pew found. Despite the ongoing and highly partisan battles over health care, “roughly equal shares in both parties say the government is doing a good job of ensuring access to health care.”

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Max Steer, president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service, which studies the federal government and employees, has attributed the dramatic drop in confidence since the 1960s in part to situations that followed the Watergate scandal and the Vietnam War.

But he believes the negative decline could be reversed if Washington communicates better and promotes good government business.

He cited the military, which suffered a “significant dip in confidence, and then bounced back.” Steer attributed this to improved communication by the Pentagon, citing how it worked with Hollywood on the Army’s image. In real life, especially in the era of international terrorism, the public wants to protect the military.

The Partnership for Public Service fosters the best known recognition of federal employees through its service to US medals, but Steer wants the government to do more to honor it.

He complained that agencies promoting the “great work” of civil servants “doesn’t happen, hardly at all.”

For Steer, the issue of trust is a leadership issue.

“Leaders in government have a responsibility to pretend that they are there on behalf of and serving the public,” he said.