What Distrust of Government Really Means

I guess it's too much to expect that good news would come out of any survey these days on Americans' view of government. So it's no surprise that a new Gallup Poll shows that people view big government as a greater threat to the future of the country than big business or big labor, by a margin bigger than at any point since 1999.

Sixty-four percent of survey respondents listed big government as the biggest threat to the country's future, compared to 26 percent for big business and 8 percent for big labor.

On the surface, that may look like just more plain old bad news for government. But keep a few things in mind:

  • Distrust of government is part of the DNA of this country. In fact, big government has been viewed as the biggest of the three future threats since Gallup started taking the survey in 1965.
  • While the divergence between views of the trustworthiness of government and the private sector has tended to grow wider over the years, as recently as 2002, the gap was only 47 percent to 38 percent, narrower than at any point dating back to the late 1960s.
  • Lack of faith in government usually means lack of faith in the political system, not necessarily the bureaucracy. And in turn, that lack of faith in politicians tends to be closely associated with the state of the economy. While Americans may think government is fundamentally dysfunctional, other surveys have shown that they still view federal agencies as attractive places to work.

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