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Americans Are Fed Up With Politics, Not Government, Says Study

Image via Gary718/
Michael Dimock, Associate Director of Research for the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, spoke at Excellence in Government Live on Sept. 6. He presented on a panel entitled, "Shifting Missions: How Much Government Do People Want?"

The message we often hear is that people are fed up with government and interested in less of it. The truth is a little more nuanced—and depends on whether we distinguish federal from local and governance from politics. The American public has a particularly negative view of the federal government in Washington these days: trust in government has been at a 50 year low for five years running (See Figure 1).

While this frustration has implications for all parts of the federal government, it is not a blanket dismissal. Many agencies and departments are viewed no more negatively today than in the past, and state and local governments, which have been the ones to hand out the bulk of the pain in recent years of budget tightening, remain in good standing with the public. Moreover, while there is a shift toward “smaller government” in recent years, the mood of the public is not as broadly anti-government as it has been at other times historically, and there is little support for cuts to most domestic programs (See Figure 9). 

The public’s ire, for the most part, is aimed at the political process in Washington, which is seen as cynical, selfish and dysfunctional (See Figure 4). 

The sickness in Congress, as the public sees it, is a personnel problem, not a structural one. Rightly or wrongly, voters believe that it’s the elected officials that are the problem, not the system.

For all the data from Dimock’s presentation, you can download the full report here.

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(Image via Gary718/

As the associate director for research, Michael Dimock is principally responsible for the development of the center’s research projects, including questionnaire design, project management, the analysis of polling data, and the presentation of survey results. Dimock also plays a central role in writing reports, and providing information to news organizations and others interested in polling and data analysis. Dr. Dimock received a Ph.D. in political science from the University of California-San Diego in 1996, and taught at North Carolina State University before joining the Pew Research Center in 2000. His published research includes articles and book chapters on voting behavior, public opinion and survey methodology.

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