Associate Director of Research for the, spoke at Excellence in Government Live on Sept. 6. He presented on a panel entitled, “Shifting Missions: How Much Government Do People Want?”
The message we often hear is that people are fed up with government and interested in less of it. The truth is a little more nuanced—and depends on whether we distinguish federal from local and governance from politics. The American public has a particularly negative view of the federal government in Washington these days: trust in government has been at a 50 year low for five years running.
While this frustration has implications for all parts of the federal government, it is not a blanket dismissal. Many agencies and departments are viewed no more negatively today than in the past, and state and local governments, which have been the ones to hand out the bulk of the pain in recent years of budget tightening, remain in good standing with the public. Moreover, while there is a shift toward “smaller government” in recent years, the mood of the public is not as broadly anti-government as it has been at other times historically, and there is little support for cuts to most domestic programs.
The public’s ire, for the most part, is aimed at the political process in Washington, which is seen as cynical, selfish and dysfunctional.
The sickness in Congress, as the public sees it, is a personnel problem, not a structural one. Rightly or wrongly, voters believe that it’s the elected officials that are the problem, not the system.