Distrust in Government Skyrockets, Survey Finds

Pew Research Center finds nearly 25 percent don't trust federal government.

April 19, 2010, 1:46 PM

April 19, 2010— -- With economic woes persisting and bitter partisan battles brewing in Washington, D.C., the number of Americans who trust the government has fallen to one of the lowest levels in half a century, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.

Only 22 percent of those surveyed said they can trust the federal government "almost always or most of the time,"19 percent said they are "basically content" with the government, a number unchanged from recent years, while 56 percent said they are frustrated.

About 43 percent said that government had a negative effect on their daily lives, a startling jump from 13 years ago when only 31 percent expressed similar sentiments in the poll.

The number of people who felt the federal government threatened their personal freedom also rose to 30 percent, up from 18 percent in a 2003 ABC News/Washington Post poll.

With mid-term elections just around the corner, the numbers illustrate a potential problem for President Obama and the Democrats.

"It's a huge huge problem for any president that's trying to make change the way Obama is," Matt Bennett, co-founder and vice president of think tank Third Way, said on ABC News' "Top Line" today of the survey numbers. "I think the one explanation is trust in government always goes down with Democratic presidents because Democrats believe in governing. ... That's what you're seeing now, that's what you saw with Bill Clinton in '93."

The survey reflects the polarized political climate in Washington, D.C. Even on issues where Democrats and Republicans have worked together in the past -- such as climate change and immigration reform -- cooperation has fallen by the wayside because of the charged partisan atmosphere.

The health care bill, which did not garner one single Republican vote in Congress, became the epitome of this political divide and further fueled movements such as the Tea Party, which has emerged as a strong force even though it remains fragmented and has yet to find direction.

According to the survey, the Tea Party could be the wild card in this election and have a significant impact on the Republican Party. The survey found that only about 49 percent of all Republicans said that GOP is the party that best reflected their views while about 28 percent cited the tea party. Among independents, 30 percent said the Tea Party is in line with their political views while only 29 percent cited the GOP.

Tea Party protestors came out in droves last week, on tax day, to protest what they dub as a government takeover. Around the country, different arms of the tea party movement have been organizing to pressure their lawmakers, many of whom are up for reelection this year.

Only 25 percent of those surveyed expressed a favorable opinion of Congress, the lowest favorable rating in this survey in a quarter century.

Less than half, or 40 percent, said the administration is doing a good job. Only 17 percent said the same about Congress.

According to Pew, the numbers were driven by overall unhappiness about the state of the nation, presidential politics, financially pressed independents and dim views of elected officials.

"Large majorities across partisan lines see elected officials as not careful with the government's money, influenced by special interest money, overly concerned about their own careers, unwilling to compromise and out of touch with regular Americans," Pew researchers wrote.

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