Americans express historic negativity toward U.S. government
September 26th, 2011
08:25 AM ET

Americans express historic negativity toward U.S. government

By Lydia Saad, Gallup

A record-high 81% of Americans are dissatisfied with the way the country is being governed, adding to negativity that has been building over the past 10 years.

Majorities of Democrats (65%) and Republicans (92%) are dissatisfied with the nation's governance. This perhaps reflects the shared political power arrangement in the nation's capital, with Democrats controlling the White House and U.S. Senate, and Republicans controlling the House of Representatives. Partisans on both sides can thus find fault with government without necessarily blaming their own party.

The findings are from Gallup's annual Governance survey, updated Sept. 8-11, 2011. The same poll shows record or near-record criticism of Congress, elected officials, government handling of domestic problems, the scope of government power, and government waste of tax dollars.

Key Findings:

  • 82% of Americans disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job.
  • 69% say they have little or no confidence in the legislative branch of government, an all-time high and up from 63% in 2010.
  • 57% have little or no confidence in the federal government to solve domestic problems, exceeding the previous high of 53% recorded in 2010 and well exceeding the 43% who have little or no confidence in the government to solve international problems.
  • 53% have little or no confidence in the men and women who seek or hold elected office.
  • Americans believe, on average, that the federal government wastes 51 cents of every tax dollar, similar to a year ago, but up significantly from 46 cents a decade ago and from an average 43 cents three decades ago.
  • 49% of Americans believe the federal government has become so large and powerful that it poses an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens. In 2003, less than a third (30%) believed this.

Congress' Ratings Have Plunged in Recent Years

Confidence in Congress hit a new low this month, with 31% of Americans saying they have a great deal or fair amount of confidence in the legislative branch, lower than the percentage confident in the executive (47%) or judicial (63%) branch. Confidence in the legislative branch is slightly higher among Republicans than among Democrats, 41% vs. 32%.

Trend: Trust and Confidence in the Legislative Branch of the Federal Government, Consisting of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives

Apart from a brief rally in public approval of Congress after the 9/11 attacks, Congress' job approval rating has followed a similar path, declining sharply since about 2000. The 15% of Americans approving of Congress in the September poll is just two percentage points above the all-time low reached twice in the past year.

Americans Want Leaders to Follow Public's Views More Closely

1974-2011 Trend: Do you approve or disapprove of the way Congress is handling its job?

Public Officials Held in Low Esteem

Americans' confidence in the people who run for or serve in office is also at a new low; however, the decline has been more recent, dropping from 66% in 2008 to 49% in 2009 and 45% today. For most of the history of this trend, Americans had much more positive views of those seeking or holding public office, but that changed in 2009, and the balance of opinion has since remained more negative than positive.

Americans Say Federal Gov't Wastes Over Half of Every Dollar

1972-2011 Trend: Trust and Confidence in the Men and Women in Political Life in This Country Who Either Hold or Are Running for Public Office

Americans Particularly Critical of Domestic Policy

At 43%, fewer Americans today than at any time in the past four decades say they have a great deal or fair amount of trust in the federal government to handle domestic problems. That is significantly lower than the 58% average level of confidence Gallup has found on this since 1972, including a 77% reading shortly after the 9/11 attacks. Gallup did not ask the question between 1976 and 1997, however, and thus may have missed low points during the recessions that occurred in the early 1980s or at the time of the House banking scandal in the early '90s.

Congressional Job Approval at 15%

By contrast, faith in Washington to handle international problems (57%) is currently better than the 51% all-time low recorded in 2007, during the Iraq war, and not far off from the 65% average seen since 1972.

1972-2011 Trend: Trust and Confidence in the Federal Government When It Comes to Handling International, Domestic Problems

Along with Americans' record-low confidence in the federal government on domestic policy, Gallup finds record skepticism about government waste. As previously reported, Americans, on average, think the federal government in Washington wastes 51 cents of every tax dollar, the highest estimated proportion of waste Gallup has found on this measure in trends dating to 1979.

Nearly Half Now Say Government Poses Immediate Threat

Americans' sense that the federal government poses an immediate threat to individuals' rights and freedoms is also at a new high, 49%, since Gallup began asking the question using this wording in 2003. This view is much more pronounced among Republicans (61%) and independents (57%) than among Democrats (28%), although when George W. Bush was president, Democrats and independents were more likely than Republicans to view government as a threat.

2003-2011 Trend: Do you think the federal government poses an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens, or not?

Bottom Line

Americans' various ratings of political leadership in Washington add up to a profoundly negative review of government - something that would seem unhealthy for the country to endure for an extended period. Nevertheless, with another budget showdown looking inevitable and a contentious presidential election year getting underway, it appears the ratings reviewed here could get worse before they improve.


Topics: Politics • Poll • United States

soundoff (14 Responses)

    This Statistics doesn't represent the Majorities of American Voices.
    The last Ten Years was the difficult time for everyone in the Globe. But, still America is much better than others. Unless we compared it with other Planets.

    September 26, 2011 at 8:49 am | Reply
  2. Stonefox

    For more information on how you can fight the Tea Party:

    September 26, 2011 at 9:24 am | Reply
  3. KRM1007


    It just does not make sense the way US Government, Congress and European minions are dealing with the Pakistani people. Is this the way American’s treat their friends and allies….stabbing them in the back? Destabilizing the country? Kicking them in the face in the media? Repeatedly expect them to win wars for USA at their expense? Nickel and diming them? Certainly, these are not values that American citizens relate to or are proud of.

    Furthermore, forgetting the financial aspects, Pakistani’s have lost over 35,000 civilians and over
    5000 army and security personnel in this war on terror!!! Are these sacrifices less important than the lives lost of the Americans and our NATO allies? Something is amiss in this whole equation.

    Additionally, where is the Marshall plan for the region following the Soviet debacle in Afghanistan? Why has not the US Congress talked about war reparations? In other words, what is the American agenda in South Asia? Are the US Government and Congress squaring away with the American people? It certainly does not seem so from its actions.

    In a nutshell, as reported by the media and pundits in US, it does not appear that fighting the few hundred terrorists in Afghanistan by a US /NATO military force of hundreds of thousands seems to be the sole objective….. as common sense would also dictate. So……. which of the following is the real agenda?

    • Countering China’s emergence as a world power that somehow eluded the American policy makers who have finally woken up? Trying to be geographically near them? Setting up military bases in Afghanistan in order to do so?

    • Doing the muscle work for India so as to clean up the region and manage Pakistan in order to tap into the Indian markets as a payback to rejuvenate the American economy (doesn’t this remind one of the British East India Company syndrome?). Is that why we would like Pakistan to take care of elements that are hostile to India but do not want to help Pakistan address the Kashmir issue with India? Boy what a slap on the face did the Indians bestow Americans by disqualifying Boeing et al in bidding from the supply of military planes and turning instead to the European suppliers!!!

    • Promoting USA’s mercenary role globally to Indian, friendly Arabs and Israelis in return for their spying for us in the region against their neighbors, supplying oil and the hope for future markets?

    • As a debtor nation, trying to find some leverage to deal with China as a creditor nation?

    • Trying to neutralize Pakistan’s role as a Chinese ally vis a vis India at the latter’s beckoning?

    I believe the US Government and Congress should make the American people aware of the real goals behinds its forays in South Asia. They are not morons. I also believe that the US Government and Congress should deal with Pakistanis with enhanced understanding and on an even keeled basis providing them more financial, economic, military and political support rather than trying to pull the rug from under them. After all, they are living in a bad neighborhood. Dealing with them squarely would be more beneficial for American interests, immediate, short and long term.

    September 26, 2011 at 10:28 am | Reply
    • j. von hettlingen

      Pakistan is a highly complex country – extreme densely populated with widespread poverty and ethnic tensions. The top twenty percent of the population rules and controls the economies of the country. Grievances are endless, so the passion for hating India is a ventilation panel to let hot air out. Any ties between India and the U.S. are seen as machinations.

      September 26, 2011 at 10:46 am | Reply
    • g h g mitte

      You appear to have made some very good points, although seemingly cynical, over-simplifying or over-generalizing on some of them. To not appear to be making assumptions, we need more support and evidence with these arguments. But showed insight, research done. Thank You

      September 27, 2011 at 12:39 pm | Reply
    • g h g mitte

      Bottonline: If all of us, and especially policy makers and leaders, would learn how to calmly get out of their "reptilian brain", limbic brain, flight or fight response, that reactive, fear-based response, we would be much more able to look at issues and facts calmly and clearly, to think before acting thoughtlessly and unwisely. Not doing so has created needless wars and crisis situations for centuries. What if JFK and Kruschev had stayed locked into this response mode during the Cuban Missile Crisis?

      September 27, 2011 at 12:50 pm | Reply
  4. j. von hettlingen

    People in general have a friendly view towards their government, when the country's in a good shape.

    September 26, 2011 at 10:50 am | Reply
  5. Don Stegemoller

    Hows that hopey changey thingy working for you guilt ridden socialists?

    You voted for Obama in 2008 to prove you weren't a racist, you were enlightened, you knew better than the millions that asked for a fair vetting of this complete unknown, you celebrated his calls for redistribution of private property, you relished the promised handouts, the unions and the socialists got their payoffs, did you get yours?

    You had better vote for anyone but Obama in 2012 just to prove you aren't completely retarded and crazy.

    Obozo could'nt run a lemonade stand. His Attorney General can run guns though, and the DNC appears to run a pretty big money laundering operation through a now bankrupt solar company. Don't forget about the administration's non-war in Libya that is still killing 1000's of non people!

    We are still in Afghanistan!
    We are still in Iraq!
    Guantanamo bay is still open!
    Wall street and the bankers are still getting handouts!
    Boeing wants to open a new factory for 1500 jobs in SC, no says Obama and his union thugs!
    Border patrol agents are dying at the highest rate ever, yet Janet says there is no problem.
    Blacks are at their highest unemplyment rate in 28 years, Obama tells them to quit complaining and vote for him again!

    Wake up people!

    September 27, 2011 at 11:00 am | Reply
    • Supra

      All that really shows is that the government isn't really the one in control.

      September 27, 2011 at 7:06 pm | Reply
  6. TODAY


    September 29, 2011 at 8:49 am | Reply
  7. cento

    In other news, 33% of voters still believe that Big Macs have no effect on cardiovascular health, and 42% still admit to pumping gasoline in their car with the engine still running. Voters are stupid, simple as that.

    October 3, 2011 at 1:53 pm | Reply
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    May 24, 2013 at 5:54 pm | Reply

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