Public Has Little Faith in Uncle Sam

Piotr Krzeslak/

The notion of a “can-do” federal government -- to the surprise of few -- took a beating in a poll released Thursday, with 70 percent of Americans saying they lack confidence in the government's ability “to make progress on the important problems and issues facing the country in 2014.” 

About 50 percent said the country’s system of democracy needs “a lot of changes” or a complete overhaul, according to poll results. The Associated Press and NORC’s Chicago-based Center for Public Affairs Research conducted the poll of 1,141 random selected adults from Dec. 12-16. Local and state governments inspire more faith than the federal government, the poll found, with 45 percent of respondents at least moderately confident in their state government, and 54 percent of respondents expressing the same confidence in their local government. 

The government received “low marks on its performance in upholding the nation’s fundamental principles,” a NORC summary said.  As many as 55 percent of those surveyed believe the government is doing a poor job of representing the views of most Americans, while only 9 percent of respondents said it is performing well. Respondents also were pessimistic about the nation’s ability to produce strong leaders and be a global leader. Some 61 percent of respondents are pessimistic about the system of government overall, and the way the country chooses leaders. 

Predictably, the public is divided on the proper role of government, with half saying “the less government the better,” but 48 percent of those surveyed reporting that “there are more things that government should be doing.” 

On the economy, a clear majority favors more government activism, with 57 percent of the public agreeing that “we need a strong government to handle today's complex economic problems.”

The public’s top-priority issues for government included, in rank order, health care, followed by unemployment and the economy, then debt and deficit spending. 

What precisely the public favors on health care was not made clear in the poll, which was conducted during the troubled rollout of President Obama’s signature health care law and two months after a government shutdown. But as many as 86 percent of those who called health care reform a top priority said they want the government to put “a lot” or “a great deal” of effort into it. Yet, as many as 49 percent of respondents are “not at all confident” of real progress in health care reform, and 20 percent of those surveyed are only “slightly confident.” 

“While it is very easy to ask people to choose a single ‘most important problem’ and to build a list for the answers, the reality is that government has to address many issues at the same time,” said Trevor Tompson, director of the AP-NORC Center.  “This survey, with data about the public’s priorities on a range of policy issues, provides policy makers with rigorous data as they seek to understand the public’s outlook on where the country is now and what the action agenda should be for the year ahead.” 

(Image via Piotr Krzeslak/

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