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Americans distrustful of, yet dependent on, federal government

Despite a lack of faith in federal lawmakers, a new Pew survey found a strong majority of U.S. adults believe the government should play a major role in numerous matters – from health care to environmental protection and infrastructure maintenance.

(CN) — Most Americans do not trust the federal government to do the right thing and are dissatisfied with the current state of the nation, though a majority believes their compatriots can always find ways to solve the country’s problems, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.

Pew surveyed 5,074 U.S. adults from April 25 to May 1, building on its previous reports about the government’s role and performance.

The survey found Republican levels of trust in government today are near an all-time low, with nine in 10 across four age groups — 18 to 34, 35 to 49, 50 to 64 and 65 and older — saying they trust the government in Washington to do what is right only some of the time or never.

Republicans expressed more confidence in the federal government during Donald Trump’s presidency, while Democrats tend to rate the government’s performance more positively now than when Trump was in office.

Americans showed a lack trust in politicians, in particular their representatives in the U.S. House.

Around 92% say at least some candidates for local, state and federal offices seek office to serve their own interests, while only 21% said all or most people who run for public office do so because they want to serve the community.

About three-quarters of respondents said if they contacted their congressperson with a problem, it is not very likely or not at all likely their representative would assist them.

Despite those concerns about the motivations and responsiveness of politicians, the survey found majorities of adults say the federal government should play a major role in all but one of 12 areas asked about in the survey.

Sixty percent or more of Americans say the government should have a major role in keeping the country safe from terrorism (90%), managing the U.S. immigration system (85%), ensuring safe food and medicine (82%), responding to natural disasters (80%), strengthening the economy (78%), protecting U.S. interests around the world (75%), effectively handling threats to public health (73%), maintaining infrastructure (72%), ensuring access to health care (69%), protecting the environment (68%) and setting fair and safe standards for workplaces (60%).

In contrast, only 52% of respondents say the government should play a major role in helping people get out of poverty — 70% of Democrats and 31% of Republicans.

Graph illustrates how the president's political party changes Democrats' and Republicans' trust in the federal government. (Source--Pew Research Center)

The participants were also asked to rate the federal government’s performance in these 12 areas.

“The only area in which a significantly larger share of Republicans rate the job the federal government is doing more positively than Democrats is on protecting the environment. About half of Republicans (47%) say this, compared with 36% of Democrats,” the report states.

According to the report, Americans view local and state governments more favorably than the federal government: “About two-thirds (66%) say they have a favorable view of their local government, compared with 54% who have a favorable view of their state government and just 32% who have a favorable view of the federal government.”

Anger among Americans about how things are going in the country has subsided since the early days of coronavirus pandemic, now at 49% compared to 71% in June 2020.

Partisan considerations are at play for the anger measurement: Less Democrats feel this way now than they did in summer 2020 when Trump was still in the White House and police brutality protests ignited by the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police were taking place across the nation.

“Over the last two years, the share of Republicans saying they are angry about the state of the country has remained relatively stable, with about six-in-ten saying this (62% say this today). By comparison, 40% of Democrats now say they feel angry thinking about the state of the country, down from 50% earlier this year, and down from nearly eight-in-ten (78%) in the summer of 2020,” Pew states in its report.

Democrats’ views on the state of the country could change considerably once the Supreme Court releases its highly anticipated ruling on Mississippi’s ban on abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

The report notes the survey was done before May 2 when a leaked draft of a Supreme Court opinion indicated the judges in the court’s conservative majority are likely to strike down the constitutional right to an abortion established in the 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade before their court’s current term ends in late June or early July.

While Pew’s survey found only 20% of Americans say they are proud of the way things are going in this country, the negativity was tempered with abiding optimism.

“A majority of the public (57%) says ‘Americans can always find ways to solve our problems,’” the report states.

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