Only 18% of Americans said they could trust the government in Washington to do what’s right “just about always” or “most of the time” – nearly the lowest that marker has ever been – in a December 2017 survey by Pew Research.
That was well before the longest government shutdown in history.
A more recent but slightly different survey from Gallup asked how much trust and confidence people had in the government when it comes to handling domestic problems.
Fifty-four percent said in the September 2018 Gallup survey that they had either “not very much” confidence or “none at all” in the federal government in Washington handling domestic problems. Only 9% had “a great deal” of confidence.
On Friday at midnight, this government shutdown eclipses the 21-day shutdown that happened when President Bill Clinton and a Republican-controlled Congress clashed in 1996 because Democrats wouldn’t agree to deep cuts that the Republican Party wanted in order to control spending on Medicare and Medicaid.
Now President Donald Trump wants more than $5 billion for his border wall with Mexico, and the Democrats who now control the House won’t give in.
Pew has compiled data on trust in the government collected by numerous pollsters since 1958, creating a moving average across pollsters who used equivalent language in conducting their surveys. At its highest, the Pew moving average was at 77% of Americans who had confidence in the government, in October 1964. In more recent history, the highest was 54% in October 2001, immediately after the terrorist attacks on September 11, under President George W. Bush.
The government’s lowest point came in October 2011, when only 15% said they trusted the government to do the right thing “just about always” or “most of the time.” By the end of 2017, the most recent time the question was asked, it was 18% of Americans, showing a very low trust in the government.
Of course, trust in the government is higher among members of the party that control the presidency. In Pew’s December 2017 poll, 22% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents had faith in the government, compared with only 15% of Democrats, Democratic-leaning independents and the same amount with no partisan lean.
Though that data is slightly dated, other polls have shown similar trends. A CBS poll in October 2018 found 58% of respondents who said things in the country are generally on the wrong track. When asked why things were on the wrong track, the majority selected that it was because of the state of politics and how the government is functioning these days (55%). Other options were the culture and values you see in American society today (34%) and the condition of the economy and your own financial situation (8%).
Clearly, people have big issues with the government and the way it functions. A Quinnipiac poll from January 2018 found a big majority of Americans said they were dissatisfied (45%) or angry (32%) when asked to choose how they feel about how the federal government works. Significantly fewer were enthusiastic (2%) or satisfied (19%).
And Trump doesn’t escape without blame in this. In a March 2018 Pew poll, 45% said they thought the President had a great deal or a fair amount of respect for the country’s democratic institutions and traditions and 54% thought he had a fair amount or none at all. This is split along partisan lines, with 55% of conservative Republicans thinking Trump had a great deal of respect and 60% of liberal Democrats saying he has none at all.