WASHINGTON, D.C. – For the first time in years, Democrats and Republicans are in agreement about the effectiveness of the federal government. According to a recent Pew Research study, neither side has confidence in Washington.
In the first years following 9/11, favorable ratings for the federal government rose dramatically, but they have been only a steady decline ever since. In November 2001, 82 percent had a favorable opinion of the government and in December 2002, 73 percent viewed the federal government in a positive light.
Positive opinions of the federal government declined through the remainder of George W. Bush’s presidency and have persistently fallen during the Obama administration. Today, 28 percent have a favorable impression of the federal government while 65 percent have an unfavorable view.
Until recently, those impressions have been split along party lines. Republicans expressed more favorable opinions during the Bush administration and Democrats during the beginning of the Obama presidency.
However, there has been a steep decline in the share of Democrats expressing a favorable opinion of the federal government since Obama took office, from 61 percent in July 2009 to 41 percent currently. Favorable opinions also have fallen among Republicans over this period, from 24 percent to 13 percent — the lowest ever favorable rating among members of either party.
However, while trust in federal government has taken a nose dive, people have more confidence in state and local government. Pew reports: “Notably, politically divided state governments get positive ratings from members of both parties. In the 13 states with divided governments – those in which the governor and a majority of state legislators are from different parties – majorities of both Republicans and Democrats express favorable opinions of their state governments.”
This flies in the face of the common narrative that the reason things are so bad in Washington is because it is too partisan. Partisan differences do not seem to be keeping states from doing what Washington cannot – get things done.
Many see this is more good news than bad. Apparently a decentralized approach to government is more efficient, something our forefathers generally understood. Switzerland has the strongest system of federalism in the world, and it is doing very well by all standards. Canada also has a decentralized system that has produced some very good policy in recent years.
Rather than focusing most power and spending at the local level, the U.S. now spends more money the further away you get from the local community. While the federal government spent $11,458 per person last year, state governments only averaged $5,048 per person. Local governments combined (towns, counties, school districts, etc.) together only spent a little more, $5,157 per capita, which means each type of local government entity spent much less than the states did.
Apparently, the citizens of the individual states think their more locally elected officials are doing a better job of handling their money than anyone in Washington.