Americans’ Approval of Federal Government Falls to New Low

A basic assumption underlying our federal system is that in general, a governmental unit that is closer to the people will be more responsive and more efficient than one that is more remote. Therefore, the presumption should be in favor of local or state government control, rather than federal. This presumption has been borne out by experience, as Americans have traditionally expressed more confidence in their local governments than in Washington.

The Obama administration, among its other accomplishments, has accelerated this longstanding trend. According to data from the Pew Research Center, Americans’ approval of the federal government has fallen to a new low. That can be seen in this chart, which compares the favorability ratings of the three levels of government from 1997 to the present. Currently, only 28% of respondents express a favorable view of the federal government:

This chart shows approval vs. disapproval of the federal government over the same time period. The spike in favorability following 9/11 distorts the trend somewhat, but you can see that the Obama administration has led to a catastrophic decline in the esteem in which the federal government is held. Currently, it stands at 28% approval and 65% disapproval:

It is also noteworthy that the federal government is much more of a partisan lightning rod than the state and local levels. This is consistent, I think, with everyone’s experience. The closer government gets to the voters, the less outlandish and ideological, and the more pragmatic its tendencies. This chart makes the point:

All of which raises a longstanding question: given that most Americans believe that the political class is incompetent and corrupt, especially at the national level, why do we repeatedly vote to give the government more of our money and more power over our lives? Or, put another way: why do voters whose instincts are seemingly conservative nevertheless vote for liberal politicians?

I don’t have an answer for those questions at the moment, but at a minimum the Pew data suggest a level of discontent with our masters in Washington that conservatives ought to be able to tap into.

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