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Rivlin & Rivlin: Is Trust in Government Really at an All Time Low?

Topics: Pew Research Center , Sheri and Allan Rivlin , Trust

Sheri Rivlin and Allan Rivlin are the Co-Editors of CenteredPolitics.com. Allan Rivlin is a Partner at Hart Research Associates. In 1993 Allan Rivlin was a Special Assistant in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Some survey findings have more legs than others and the recent report "Distrust, Discontent, Anger and Partisan Rancor" from the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press seems to be getting more attention than most. Conservative commentators such as the Wall Street Journal's Dan Henniger are using the finding that just 22% trust the government to do what is right "just about always" or "most of the time" to suggest that Obama's policies are completely at odds with the mood of American voters and predicting the Democrats will lose big in the November election.

Democrats can take heart in the fact that this number was 17% in a CBS poll taken in October 2008 just before the Republicans were swept out of power. Henniger falsely asserts that the poll results are an "historical low" point for the measure. Nonetheless the fairly low reading is further evidence that the mood of America is more anti-incumbent than anti-Democratic.

Indeed, the chart and accompanying data table Pew compiled from the iPOLL database maintained at the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at the University of Connecticut are very illuminating. From readings as high as 73% in 1958 and 77% in 1964 we see the long steady decline in the chart through the Vietnam War years to 53% in 1972. There is a sharp fall off after the Watergate scandal to 36% in 1974, and a continued decline through the Ford and Carter years to 25% in 1980. That's about where the number is now.

The number moves upward through the first Reagan term to 47% in 1984, but then falls again to 40% in 1988 and hits a lows of 22% (again the current number) as George Bush the elder is running for reelection during an economic downturn. The number stood at 17% in 1994 after the defeat of the Clinton health reform effort, and just before Democrats lost control of Congress for the first time in 40 years, so Democrats cannot afford to ignore the fact that the number is again near its lowest measures.

But the number did rise dramatically during the Clinton years hitting 44% before the 2000 election. The measure spiked to 60% just after September 11, 2001 but then declined through the Bush years to 17% just before Obama was elected.

So what do these results really tell us?

The survey question is really capturing three things at once. 1) The number rises and falls with the economy which is a key driver of overall satisfaction with government. 2) The number falls in response to a major scandal such as Watergate or Iran Contra.

And 3) we are not the same as the American public in the 1950s. Belief in institutions, all institutions, from the Catholic Church to large corporations to the military, the political parties and the federal government is something to be read about in historical novels and seen only in the first season of Mad Men. After hearing the justification for the Iraq invasion, what grown up in 2010 would say they trust the government "just about always" as 3% do in the current survey? These days the modal choice of conservatives and liberals is "some of the time" the answer chosen by a majority of Democrats and Republicans in the survey -- but counted as "distrust" when the results are summarized.

So how worried should Democrats be based on the results reported in the Pew study? The answer is more than a little but less than the survey's conservative trumpeters. The truth is the survey tells us the conservative movement has been successful in its decades long campaign to reduce the trust in government built by FDR's successful response to the great depression and World War II. This effort most emblematically captured in Ronald Reagan's "The government IS the problem" mantra, has had a long term effect and combined with a poor economy, it means the Democrats are challenged by an anti-incumbent headwind heading into this election.

But in our most recent post we explain why the predictions of doom are misplaced and what we think Democrats should do to turn the tide in our favor.

Cross-posted
at Centered-Politics.com.

 

Comments
Aaron_in_TX:

"FDR's successful response to the great depression and World War II"

Don't say that heresy around a conservative. According to them the FDR era was a major turnpike in the road to socialism. Of course people like Glen Beck also blame T. Roosevelt and basically every reform that came out of the progressive era.

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Westwoodnc Westwoodnc:

"Nonetheless the fairly low reading is further evidence that the mood of America is more anti-incumbent than anti-Democratic."

Are these two stupid? How did they wake up in the morning and be able to figure out what their opposable thumbs are there for? Yeah, people are sooooo anti-incumbent the voters will go after the non-incumbent party.

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hoosier_gary:

It must be tough being a liberal analyst right now. Findind a positive spin for democrats out of dismal poll after dismal poll must be getting harder by the day.

It is especially delightful for people like these 2 to tell the democrats that all they have to do is do what they have been doing for the past 15 months - just do it more and harder.

They are still in denial that the country is mad at the democrats for pushing through big spending, bix taxes, huge bailouts, and taking the country much further left that the majority of the country is comfortable with.

There advice? Bigger spending, bigger taxes, bigger than huge bailouts, and go even further to the left than now (if that is even possible).

Are you sure these 2 aren't actually operatives for the republican party? I hope they aren't and that the democrats are foolish enough to follow this advice.

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Aaron_in_TX:

"There advice? Bigger spending, bigger taxes, bigger than huge bailouts, and go even further to the left than now (if that is even possible)."

Funny, I didn't find this to be the authors' advice in their post. Where did you read that? Bailouts were not mentioned. Spending was only mentioned in the sense that democrats should oppose draconian cuts to the social safety net, which they rightly note is popular.

I'll grant you the point that the authors generalize the republican position based on some of their more extreme elements. (The Dick Armey "medicare is tyranny" wing). Most republicans are staunch defenders of medicare and social security; they don't want to eliminate them.

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Westwoodnc Westwoodnc:

Funny, I didn't find this to be the authors' advice in their post. Where did you read that? Bailouts were not mentioned. Spending was only mentioned in the sense that democrats should oppose draconian cuts to the social safety net, which they rightly note is popular.

====

Extending Democrat rule will lead to more of what hoosier_gary is talking about. VAT is going to be closer to reality and Obama on top of the various taxes on middle-classes passed this year has already declared himself open for more middle-class tax increases. Not to mention the sundry business taxes and regulations to finance his record-breaking amount of deficits.

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hoosier_gary:

@Aaron,

Did you read the linked article or just the blurb above. The authors said things like,

"the Democrats ended a long and discordant process by coming together to pass reform" - They think that is a good thing. Only 39% of the country agrees.

"The truth is public attitudes are divided over health care reform, but that is not the point." Not the point? 55% actively support repealing this monstrosity but that's not the point?

"The point is the law was passed." Absolutely. But not in a positive way for democrats.

"but all sides agree that something important was passed by Congress and signed it into law by President Obama." True - but once again, 55% of the country think that was a bad thing.

"If Democrats can come together in support of two or three more pieces of legislation before the election, they can put Republicans completely on the defensive and the election results may be far less bleak than some people are expecting." Really? 2 or 3 more? Is that because the public likes the bailouts, stimulus, and healthcare bills so much?

"The Democrats are on the right track". Really? Is that why they keep dropping in the polls every week?

"The key to all of this is moving forward boldly and standing strongly"

Now, doesn't all that add up to just keep shoving crap through congress and you'll be just fine when election time comes?

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Aaron_in_TX:

Gary,

Yes, I read their blog post as well as this page.

"Not the point? 55% actively support repealing this monstrosity but that's not the point?"

We can go back and forth on the HCR approval. I can say "majorities approve of the specific components" and you can say "but they were against the total bill" ad infinitum.

It seems to me that most people wanted health care reform, but they didn't want it to cost any money, didn't want it to change any of the arrangements they currently have, and didn't want to make people get something that it's a bad idea for anyone to go without.

Well, if that's what they wanted, they might as well have wanted no reform, because you can't change something by doing nothing.

I've talked to dozens of people about health care and I've gotten dozens of different ideas for fixing it, all of which would cause problems politically if attempted or I've gotten complete frustration and confusion on how to fix a system that's got so many complexities. They know they don't want "this bill," but they have no clue on what to do. But "someone" could do "something" better.

Of course we all want remarkable value at a discount price, unfortunately the two are not usually compatible.

I've experienced this every time I've been in a leadership position. People want something changed, but they want to keep all the benefits of what exists and just make the bad parts better. The problem is, any change in the way work is done involves some tradeoffs and it's impossible to please everyone, but they'll be upset if nothing is done too. Being a boss sucks and you can never make everyone happy; I'm sure you've experienced this.

Health care was never going to make a lot of people happy.

Regarding your other points, it seemed that the legislation they refer to are jobs programs, immigration reform, and financial reform, not bailouts, stimulus packages, or health care bills.

"Right track" referred specifically to financial reform.

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hoosier_gary:

Look at the independent components for approval if you want. The democrats have been trying to sell it that way for a year now and have completely failed. The people I talk with about this bill all agree - some of the individual components would be good but the bill as a whole is so absolutely horrid that it is not worth any or all of those individual items.

They also look at the gimmicks and stunts to make the bill look like it reduces the deficit and come to the conclusion that if the democrats expect us to believe that, why would we believe anything at all that they claim this bill will do. That is such a bold and blatant lie repeated over and over and it kills their credibility every time they repeat it.

This bill took what little trust there was for congress and shoved it six feet under ground. Passing more bills with more gimmicks and stunts isn't going to help the democrats. They would be better off to go home and not pass another single thing before election.

Even the financial reform bill which should be popular is having special interests, pork spending, and earmarks added to it by the senate and the house will add even more. By the time they get done with it, it will be another 2,000 page monstrosity containing 5% reform and 95% garbage.

Taking on things like immigration and global warming right now would be the stupidest thing ever attempted by a congress - politically speaking. They would shove their losses into the 100+ seat range if they did that.

Passing more and more garbage on straight party-line votes is only going to make things worse for democrats. My forecast is that by the time they get done with the financial reform bill the public will oppose it by a majority. Especially if more evidence of collusion between Goldman Sachs and the white house comes out.

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Aaron_in_TX:

"some of the individual components would be good but the bill as a whole is so absolutely horrid"

The horrid parts would be what? Probably the individual mandate and the overall cost and resultant taxes that may come due to it. As for the deals for certain states, etc... cry me a river. Buying votes is politics. George Washington lost his first election to the Virginia house of burgesses because he didn't buy enough rum for the people who were thinking about supporting him. The next time in 1758 he bought more than enough and won.

Don't like the mandate? OK fine. Then don't ever, ever complain if your insurance company denies a treatment on some sort of pre-existing basis. The only way they can make a profit is discriminating on some of those claims. You can't get something for nothing, so I'm told, so you can't expect insuance to pay out on more claims without a bigger risk pool.

"immigration and global warming"

I prefer the government to do something, not nothing. I don't really care about global warming, nor do I think it's all that serious, but I do care about bringing immigration under control and not having big populations living off the grid, yet we can't deny them services. Their labor is also extorted and they are taken advantage of by those that bring them here and employ them. I'd prefer to bring this under control.

"special interests, pork spending, and earmarks"

As I've said, there is never a time nor a country when these things didn't happen. The phrase "pork barrel" was coined in the 19th century. "Special interests" used to be the illuminati or the freemasons, or so people said. Now they're corporate lobbies.

Everything you say is just indicating that you don't trust democratic governance. Or did you think passage of Medicare part D or CAFTA, or any Iraq appropriations came without favors?

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hoosier_gary:

"I prefer the government to do something, not nothing." I prefer that the government do nothing if the alternative is making things worse. The healthcare bill makes things 10 times worse than they are now.

Every single thing the democrats have done in the past 3 years they have been in control of congress has been filled with garbage and 10 times bigger than they had to be. TARP was a 3 page bill from the WH and congress turned it into a 250 page mess and the senate added another 200 pages to it.

The democrats didn't invent buying votes but they have perfected it. This is the most corrupt congress in history being run by a corrupt Chicago politician. In spite of that lierals are wondering around with a dazed look on their face wondering why the majority of American doesn't join them in worship of big government, big spending, and bid debt.

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sjt22:

I prefer that the government do nothing if the alternative is making things worse.

You think TARP made things worse? I don't like it, but the truth is it propped up the Financial sector and helped avert a potential Chernobyl into a mere 3 mile Island.

The healthcare bill makes things 10 times worse than they are now.

Wow, really? 10 times worse. How the hell do you quantify that? Have costs gone up 10 times? Are people 10 times sicker? Are 10 times as many people denied access to insurance?

No, no, and no.


TARP was a 3 page bill from the WH and congress turned it into a 250 page mess and the senate added another 200 pages to it.

Are you suggesting that Congress should just completely roll over and do whatever the president asks of them? Are they supposed to just give up trying to represent their constituents and interests?

This is the most corrupt congress in history being run by a corrupt Chicago politician

Someone needs a big history lesson. This is probably the most corrupt congress... since the last one. Which was the most corrupt since the one before that. And so on.

In spite of that lierals are wondering around with a dazed look on their face wondering why the majority of American doesn't join them in worship of big government, big spending, and bid debt.

Oh please, like Americans have ever cared about debts or deficits in any meaningful way. Why should they, when people like Reagan and Bush loudly insist that they could run all the red ink they wanted with no negative effects?

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sjt22:

Even the financial reform bill which should be popular is having special interests, pork spending, and earmarks added to it by the senate and the house will add even more. By the time they get done with it, it will be another 2,000 page monstrosity containing 5% reform and 95% garbage.

Welcome to reality, Gary! Hey guess what, big powerful intersts use their money and power in order to try and protect or enhance their money an power. What an amazing discover!

Since you're so outraged about this, I'm sure you were equally outraged over the Citizens United Ruling which allows business to wholly buy legislators, right? I supposed you'll be channeling your anger into reform efforts like public funding of campaigns and other efforts to wean money and its influence out of politics.

Somehow I doubt it.

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hoosier_gary:

This is hope and change? I thought the great and only Obama was supposed to change all of this. Queen Nancy promised the most ethical and transparent congress ever. Are you admitting they are nothing more than corrupt politicians and that everything they say is a lie? I agree.

You pretend to be outraged by Citizens's United ruling when the unions were already allowed to give obama $500 million in a single election year?

Goldman Sachs gave Obama $1 million before this supreme court ruling. Why would you be outraged that they can give him $100 million now? Don't you think that was part of the deal in his secret meetings with the CEO of Goldman Sachs before he pretended to be outraged at them in public?

Obama's own agency, Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, just said that over 14 million americans who now have employer based healthcare coverage will lose it with Obamacare.

They also said that 18 million of those 34 million the democrats claimed would be covered under this bill will be forced into medicaid and medicare - causing even shortages of doctors and facilities willing to play the medicare game now. Wait times for medicare patients will skyrocket.

They also said that the cuts to medicare which were forecast at $475 billion in the bill will have to be $575 billion in order to meet the bills financial requirements. That's an extra $100 billion in cuts over what was forecast just a month ago. And, that is on top of the huge increase of the number of people on medicare that wasn't projected in the bill.

Health and human services just said that healthcare costs aren't going down - they are going up by $311 billion over the next 10 years. That's $89 billion more than they said just one month ago. That's beside the fact that they are still claiming healthcare costs are going down with this bill.

The CBO estimates that 4 million american households will be hit with healthcare tax penalites - and that is before the cadillac tax kick in.

So, Obama's own agencies, just one month into this horrendous healthcare destruction bill are telling him it already is going to cost $300 billion more than projected, will cause 14 million people to lose their insurance, 4 million families will be hit with healthcare tax penalties, and this will cause huge waiting times for medicare and medicaid patients.

The other bad news? After obamacare, there will still be 21,000 americans who do not have any health insurance. The estimate that this bill would cover 96% of Americans has already been scaled back to 93%. That is compared to 90% who currently have coverage. 100% of Americans are forced to suffer with this monstrosity in order to help 3%.

The estimate of how many medicare and medicaid patients will die because of these long waits hasn't been calculated yet. Someone will need to keep a body count website to see how many people Obamacare kills.

So, yes. I stick with my claim that this healthare monstrosity makes things 10 times worse than they would be without it. In fact, this is 33 times worse than present because there are 33 times more people whose insurance is not a problem now that will suffer so that the ones that need it get it.

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Aaron_in_TX:

Then perhaps republicans should have actually come to the table and proposed solutions to the problems you mention.

At the very least, passage of HCR means republicans will be FORCED to deal with the HCR problems if they want to "repeal and replace it," although they're already running away from that. Otherwise, I have no doubt they would never have touched the issue with a ten foot pole.

Although it's rich that your estimation of the uninsured keeps going down. Yes, everyone has health insurance in America that needs it except 3%. I'm so sure that the 97% have insurance that covers all their needs.

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