Gallup conducts an annual poll asking people to “Please say whether you are very satisfied, somewhat satisfied, somewhat dissatisfied, or very dissatisfied with our system of government and how well it works.” The percentage of people answering “very” or “somewhat” dissatisfied has risen steadily since 2000 from a low of 23% in 2002 to its current high of 65%. I’m shocked, shocked to find out people are increasingly unhappy with their government.
I would have posed the question differently, though. Instead of asking about their “satisfaction with our system of government and how well it works,” I’d have asked about their “satisfaction with how well our government works.” The difference is that, with the Gallup version, someone could be an avowed Marxist who’s dissatisfied with our system of government even as they’re happy to see it implode. In my version, we’d find out how people think the government is working irrespective of their preferred political or economic philosophies.
And that’s a distinction with a difference. I think most Americans are on board with a capitalist economy and a republican form of government. Most of us would just like to give it a try. Unfortunately, the way Gallup words the question we can’t break out which of those dissatisfied Americans are unhappy with the current trend towards crony corporatism and its inevitable failure to treat them fairly, or if they’re just upset at not getting their share of the plunder.
We can, however, tease out some of the answer as the poll goes on to ask about Americans’ satisfaction with the size and power of the federal government in particular. The ranks of the dissatisfied climbed from a low of 39% in 2002 to a high of 69% in 2012, and currently sits at 66% after a brief spell of relative euphoria with only 63% of Americans disliking federal government power in 2013. That tells me Americans are increasingly unhappy with having D.C.’s values and priorities imposed on them, notwithstanding how good the feds or our current system might be at it.
That’s the good news. The bad news is that 66% of Americans thinking D.C. has too much power apparently isn’t enough to make us want to do anything about it. Even as our disgust with Washington’s imposing its will on the rest of us has increased, we’ve allowed our dependence on government handouts to increase. Federal grants to states rose by over 26% from 2007 to 2012, and now account for about a third of state spending on average.
So just to tidy all that up, we are giving our federal government record low approval ratings while simultaneously increasing our dependence it, and acting surprised at how it turns out. Huh? We’ve become the proverbial infant with an intake at one end, an exhaust at the other, and no sense of responsibility for what happens at either.
Still, there is some room for hope that we may collectively come to our senses. A similar poll asking about trust in state and local government shows faith in them at 62% and 71% respectively. Unfortunately I’m guessing that as they become more dependent on federal funds and the marionette strings that come with them, we’re going to see state and local numbers start to slide as well.
It is interesting, though, that trust in government has become much more local as D.C. gets further out of touch with the rest of the country. Maybe we’ll hike up our Huggies and bring government back home after all.