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Survey: Americans Have Low Trust in the Federal Government, But Believe It Has Potential To Help With Health Care and Technology

“Most believe the government’s role in improving lives will stay the same or increase over the next 10 years,” the results found. 

A recent survey found that Americans have low levels of trust in the federal government, but are optimistic agencies could bring future improvements in areas such as technology and health care.

A survey by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and MeriTalk found that “many Americans are still optimistic about the government’s potential to make specific and positive changes for people’s lives, even though they don’t have a lot of confidence in how well it’s generally working today,” said Jennifer Benz, deputy director of the AP-NORC Center, in a press release. “For example, they see specific opportunities for the government to improve health care and online data security.”

Only 15% of respondents said they trust the federal government to do what’s right for them and their families the majority of the time; 22% said they trust the government to deliver its services fairly (regardless of race, ethnicity or other characteristics); and 9% were confident in the government’s ability to spend money in the best interest for the public.The survey was conducted in June and had a sample size of 1,004 U.S. adults. 

Democrats were four times more likely than Republicans and three times more likely than independents to trust the federal government to do what’s right for them and their families, the survey found. 

“Despite the lack of trust in the government, most believe the government’s role in improving lives will stay the same or increase over the next 10 years,” the results showed. Thirty-eight percent think it will be more important, 38% said it will be just as important and 23% said it will be less important. Also, Black Americans were almost twice as likely as white Americans to have said that the government will have a more important role over the next decade. 

A majority of the Democrats (79%) and Republicans (56%) surveyed—as well as white Americans (65%), Black Americans (72%), and Hispanic Americans (75%)—said they see value in the government’s investments in technology. 

“Most adults prioritize improving the health care system and online data security when asked how the federal government should allocate its effort across a range of issue areas,” the results stated. “About half say the federal government should pay special attention to other issues like improving the country’s standing as a global leader, updating workforce education, and making it easier for people to enroll in federal service programs.”

However, there are some demographic differences in respondents’ feelings about government. 

“Partisan differences arise when it comes to the level of effort citizens would like from the federal government on issues like improving health care, simplifying federal programs and making the public’s participation easier, and adapting workforce education,” said the results. “Democrats are more likely to think the government should prioritize these issues than Republicans. Adults ages 40 and older are more likely than younger adults to say they want the federal government to devote a great deal or quite a bit of effort on completing government projects efficiently (60% versus 41%), improving data privacy (65% versus 55%), and improving the country’s standing in the world (59% versus 35%).” 

Additionally, most respondents found the federal government to be at least somewhat effective in helping citizens during the novel coronavirus pandemic, as shown by the chart below. Adults ages 40 and over, Black adults and Democrats were the groups with highest percentage of respondents rating the government as effective.

In terms of how well the government performs compared to the private sector, respondents said the federal government would be better at improving the United States’ standing in the world, making it easier to find and participate in federal programs, and improving the health care system. Meanwhile, they said the private sector is better at adapting workforce education to meet the needs of the changing economy and improving online data and privacy. They also thought the private sector would be slightly better at completing “high-quality projects quickly and at the lowest possible cost.” 

Steve O’Keeffe, MeriTalk founder, said in a press release, the results of the survey provide a “roadmap” as Congress and the Biden administration work on the massive infrastructure deal. He also noted that MeriTalk’s conference in July 2022 will bring together congressional, government and industry leaders to discuss the issues at the center of the survey.