Pew president: Public distrust of government slow to retreat

It’s no secret that generally speaking, Americans have lost their trust in the federal government, and Pew Research Center President Michael Dimock recently weighed in on the issue to Ripon Advance, including what the nation’s leaders should do to restore the public’s faith in their work.

Dimock has his finger on the pulse of Americans’ political views. He’s a political scientist and a researcher of some of the country’s most revealing political surveys. His firm conducts public polls and demographic research while crunching numbers from mountains of data from across the nation. If anyone can be considered an expert on American opinion, Dimock can.

“The last 10 years have seen a prolonged period during which trust has remained at or near historic lows,” he said. “There are many causes for this, and our 2010 report on trust in government outlined some of them: a dismal economy, an unhappy public, bitter partisan-based backlash, and epic discontent with Congress and elected officials.”

Dimock said it isn’t just one group displaying this trend, but that it is represented across the board. “Majorities across all demographic groups express low levels of trust in government,” he said. “That said, currently, young people and minorities are more likely to trust government at least most of the time, compared with older Americans and whites.”

He also said current public opinion is similar to that of other eras in American history, particularly those in which presidential administrations began to lose favor.

“The current levels of trust in the federal government are similar to those of the late 1970s and the early 1990s,” Dimock said. “Trust was at a particularly low ebb in 1994 (Clinton’s second year), just prior to the Republican revolution. Again, what the current period has in common with those earlier times is a gloomy national outlook and widespread pessimism about the nation’s economy.”

When discussing the possibilities of rebuilding America’s trust, Dimock explains that the government’s democratic system will usually work itself back around, although it takes time. “Overall, when people feel insecure, they will hold leaders to task,” Dimock said. “The perception of dysfunction in Washington, along with a persistent sense of economic insecurity, is clearly weighing down views of government. And just as with interpersonal relationships, trust in government can be lost easily, but takes a lot of time, effort and consistent performance to win back. There is no single factor, silver bullet or flip of a switch that builds trust immediately.”