Analysis: Confidence in Federal Workers Up Sharply After Shutdown

Federal workers demonstrate against the government shutdown outside the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Tuesday, Oct. 8 in Atlanta. Federal workers demonstrate against the government shutdown outside the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Tuesday, Oct. 8 in Atlanta. David Goldman/AP

Whether a sympathy vote or a new found appreciation, many Americans seem to have taken a fresh look at the federal workforce and decided it merits more confidence.

Confidence in civilian federal workers increased significantly during the shutdown, according to a new George Washington University Battleground Poll. After hitting a low point before the shutdown, voters’ ratings of federal workers have jumped to the highest levels in five years.

Immediately before the shutdown, a GW poll had found the lowest level of confidence in federal workers since 2009, with 36 percent of respondents having little or no confidence and only 19 percent voicing a lot of confidence. Shortly after the shutdown a nationwide telephone survey of 1,000 registered voters found that 29 percent have a lot of confidence and the segment voicing little or no confidence fell 15 percentage points to 21 percent.

Perhaps the shutdown focused attention on the breath of important activities undertaken by federal employees and diverted attention from lingering controversies at the Internal Revenue Service and elsewhere.

Whatever the driving factors, higher opinions of feds cut across party lines. The share of Democrats who have a lot of confidence in federal workers jumped from 26 percent to 40 percent, while the share of Republicans who have at least some confidence grew from 51 percent to 65 percent. Democrats, however, are still substantially more confident in federal workers than are Republicans.   

William C. Adams and Donna Lind Infeld are professors in the Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration at the George Washington University.

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