Amid widespread disagreement on many issues, Americans generally support the government having a substantial role in citizens’ lives.
A report from Pew Research Center gauged public attitudes toward the federal government. What it found: there is widespread belief from Democrats and Republicans that the government does too little to address concerns from certain groups. The study, released June 6, surveyed more than 5,000 U.S. adults from April to May 2022 on attitudes toward government and its appropriate role.
“Republicans and Democrats have fundamental differences of opinion about the government’s role in protecting Americans,” Pew said in the report, which went on to note that Americans’ unhappiness with government “has long coexisted with their continued support for government having a substantial role in many realms.”
The report comes at a busy time for national leadership and a critical time for those seeking office as 2022 primaries are underway through September. The Supreme Court is expected to decide major cases this month on divisive issues including abortion and gun control, and the first hearings on the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol will be held Thursday. The COVID-19 pandemic also tested the government’s reach in setting public health restrictions and aligning spending with economy recovery.
The Pew report revealed several benchmarks of public opinion on government efficacy, including the federal response to certain issues and views on politicians. One finding set the tone:
“Just 20% say they trust the government in Washington to do the right thing just about always or most of the time.”
In terms of size and scope, a majority of Americans say the government should have a significant role in 11 of 12 issues included in the survey – including terrorism, immigration and the economy. The exception from this list is for helping citizens out of poverty.
Though Americans have been historically dissatisfied with government, many believe it should have power, the report says. It points out a gap between those who want the government to take action on issues and the share of those who believe it does a good job addressing those concerns.
Some of the findings suggest low confidence among respondents when it comes to how carefully the government stewards tax dollars or how responsive the government is to the needs of ordinary citizens. These, the report says, are not dissimilar to findings in years past.
The study also highlights opinions on whether the government is doing enough, a key finding considering the dichotomy often serves as the underpinning of differences in Republican and Democratic policy. When it comes to balancing power with states, for example, Republicans are far more likely than Democrats to say they are extremely or very concerned that the federal government is doing too much, the report found.
Pew published a similar study in 2019, concluding that public confidence in the government declined in the 1960s and 1970s, rose in the 80s and early 2000s and fell to near historic lows at the time of research.
For more of the study’s findings, read the full report from Pew Research Center here.
Molly Weisner is a reporter for Federal Times where she covers industry issues pertaining to the government workforce. She's made previous stops at USA Today and McClatchy as a producer and worked on The New York Times's print desk as a copy editor. Molly majored in journalism and French at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.