Americans Express Historic Negativity Toward U.S. Government Several long-term Gallup trends at or near historical lows

Email Print

NJ – A record-high 81% of Americans are dissatisfied with the
way the country is being governed, adding to negativity that has
been building over the past 10 years.

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 findings
are from Gallup’s annual Governance survey, updated Sept. 8-11,
2011. The same poll shows record or near-record criticism of Congress,
elected officials, government handling of domestic problems, the
scope of government power, and government waste of tax dollars.

Key Findings:

  • 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.

Ratings Have Plunged in Recent Years

in Congress hit a new low this month, with 31% of Americans saying
they have a great deal or fair amount of confidence in the legislative
branch, lower than the percentage confident in the executive (47%)
or judicial (63%) branch. Confidence in the legislative branch is
slightly higher among Republicans than among Democrats, 41% vs.

Apart from
a brief rally in public approval of Congress after the 9/11 attacks,
Congress’ job approval rating has followed a similar path, declining
sharply since about 2000. The 15%
of Americans approving of Congress
in the September poll is
just two percentage points above the all-time low reached twice
in the past year.

Public Officials
Held in Low Esteem

confidence in the people who run for or serve in office is also
at a new low; however, the decline has been more recent, dropping
from 66% in 2008 to 49% in 2009 and 45% today. For most of the history
of this trend, Americans had much more positive views of those seeking
or holding public office, but that changed in 2009, and the balance
of opinion has since remained more negative than positive.

Particularly Critical of Domestic Policy

At 43%, fewer
Americans today than at any time in the past four decades say they
have a great deal or fair amount of trust in the federal government
to handle domestic problems. That is significantly lower than the
58% average level of confidence Gallup has found on this since 1972,
including a 77% reading shortly after the 9/11 attacks. Gallup did
not ask the question between 1976 and 1997, however, and thus may
have missed low points during the recessions that occurred in the
early 1980s or at the time of the House banking scandal in the early

By contrast,
faith in Washington to handle international problems (57%) is currently
better than the 51% all-time low recorded in 2007, during the Iraq
war, and not far off from the 65% average seen since 1972.

Along with
Americans’ record-low confidence in the federal government on domestic
policy, Gallup finds record skepticism about government waste. As
previously reported, Americans, on average, think the federal government
in Washington wastes 51 cents of every tax dollar, the highest estimated
proportion of waste Gallup has found on this measure in trends dating
to 1979.

Nearly Half
Now Say Government Poses Immediate Threat

sense that the federal government poses an immediate threat to individuals’
rights and freedoms is also at a new high, 49%, since Gallup began
asking the question using this wording in 2003. This view is much
more pronounced among Republicans (61%) and independents (57%) than
among Democrats (28%), although when George W. Bush was president,
Democrats and independents were more likely than Republicans to
view government as a threat.

2003-2011 Trend:
Do you think the federal government poses an immediate threat to
the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens, or not?

Bottom Line

various ratings of political leadership in Washington add up to
a profoundly negative review of government – something that
would seem unhealthy for the country to endure for an extended period.
Nevertheless, with another budget showdown looking inevitable and
a contentious presidential election year getting underway, it appears
the ratings reviewed here could get worse before they improve.

Survey Methods

Results for
this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Sept.
8-11, 2011, with a random sample of 1,017 adults, aged 18 and older,
living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

For results
based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95%
confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4
percentage points.

are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular
phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who
are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota
of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000
national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents
by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among
listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using
random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random
within each household on the basis of which member had the most
recent birthday.

Samples are
weighted by gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region,
adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline
only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number).
Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2010 Current
Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized
population living in U.S. telephone households. All reported margins
of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting
and sample design.

In addition
to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in
conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings
of public opinion polls.

For more details
on Gallup’s polling methodology, visit

with permission from Gallup.

29, 2010

2011 Gallup

Email Print