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OP-ED – A recent Pew Research Center poll shows what most Americans didn’t need an expert to tell them; trust in their government is at an all-time low. In fact, Americans’ trust in the federal government has been on a steady decline from a high of 73 percent during the Eisenhower administration in 1958 to well below 50 percent today.
This latest Pew poll shows that a majority of the public believes that the federal government threatens their personal rights and freedoms. 53 percent of respondents said that the federal government threatens their personal rights and freedoms while 43 percent disagreed. Three-fourths of conservative Republicans said that the government threatens their personal freedom while a smaller percentage, 38 percent of Democrats, agreed.
Perhaps more telling is the far greater percentage of Americans who simply do not trust their government. According to Pew, the survey found “continued widespread distrust in government.” Only one in four Americans trust Washington to “to do the right thing just about always or most of the time.” Nearly 75 percent of those surveyed said they “can never trust the government” or can trust the government “only some of the time.”
Pew said that the 2013 response is a significant change from March 2010, when opinions were almost equally divided over whether the government represented a threat to personal freedom – 47 percent said it did while 50 percent disagreed. In surveys conducted between 1995 and 2003, majorities of those surveyed rejected the idea that the government threatened people’s rights and freedoms, Pew indicated.
A number of factors have led to this decline in trust of government and which ones to blame have been debated for some time. However, there was a general consensus among the poll respondents that economic uncertainty, a highly partisan environment and overwhelming discontent with Congress and elected officials are all factors contributing to the current wave of public distrust.
The long, bitter debate over the healthcare law caused an increase in negative feelings toward the government, in particular Congress, according to the report. About 25 percent had a favorable opinion of Congress, the lowest in 25 years of surveying, and less than half said the Obama administration was doing an excellent or good job.
But to think the current feelings about government popped up in a vacuum is a mistake. The only time since 1975 that government trust rose above 50 percent was in the months following 9/11. After the assassinations of the 1960s, the Vietnam War, the resignation of President Nixon, and the stagflation of the late 1970s, public trust fell from 80 percent in 1966 to about 25 percent in 1981.
One of the reasons Ronald Reagan is remembered by so many as a great president is because he stepped into a time when confidence in Washington was at an all-time low. He did not succeed in everything he attempted but he did succeed in temporarily restoring a general sense of American confidence in the country.
Whether another elected official will rise to the occasion of the current sense of angst and distrust in the process is yet to be seen. With a President who the media has proclaimed to have a national mandate with only a 46% approval rating just a month into his second term and a Congress that apparently can’t find its way, the outlooks are not good.