4 of 5 Americans lack confidence in government
But poll shows cynicism down slightly from 2 years ago
March 21, 1997
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A new poll finds that Americans have become a little less distrustful about their government -- but cynicism still remains in abundant supply.
More than one in five Americans surveyed, or 22 percent, expressed confidence in the federal government in a poll conducted for the Council for Excellence in Government, a nonpartisan group working to improve the effectiveness of government.
However, that meager grade is still an improvement over two years ago, when just 15 percent of those surveyed expressed confidence, a 20-year low.
The 1,003 people surveyed were more trusting of their local and state governments. About 38 percent said they had confidence in their local lawmakers, while 32 percent were confident of those holding power at the state level.
Over the past two years, the level of confidence at the state and local levels of government went up by about the same amount -- 7 percent -- as did confidence in the federal government.
Why the slight increase in optimism? Robert Teeter, one of the pollsters who conducted the survey, attributes the shift to good economic news.
"In a sustained, strong economy, people think all things tend to go well," Teeter said. "And it tends to raise the tide for everyone."
Government still seen as an obstacle
Still, the poll showed that 47 percent of the respondents believed the federal government is an obstacle to realizing the American dream. And 63 percent of those polled said politicians pursue their own agenda at the expense of serving the people.
Count Sydney Drazin among their number.
"Half of the rhetoric that's being said today is a bunch of bull," said Drazin, a liquor store owner in Washington. "We all know it."
Majority favor campaign-finance reform
However, the poll shows that most Americans believe their government at least has the potential to improve.
More than three out of every four people polled said the federal government could be more effective if it were better managed. And a majority now believe that campaign-finance reform would be an effective tool to make the federal government more effective.
But the poll shows that government performance may have to get a whole lot better to start registering with the people. When asked to name two or three government successes of the past 30 years, 42 percent of the respondents could not even name one.
Founded in 1983, the council is a nonprofit organization of more than 750 members, who have served as senior public officials and now hold leadership roles in corporations and private organizations.
The margin of error in the poll was plus or minus 3 percent.
Correspondent Kyoko Altman contributed to this report.
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