Nearly two-thirds of Americans do not trust the federal government, a share that has increased over the last two years and marked a period of near record-low confidence in the country’s political institutions.

A Partnership for Public Service poll sampling 800 U.S. adults this spring found just 23% trust the government, compared to 35% in 2022. The results show more Americans consider the federal government to be incompetent, and just 15% believe it to be transparent.

“The decline in the public’s trust of the federal government — our most important democratic institution — is alarming,” said Max Stier, president and CEO of the Partnership for Public Service, a non-partisan, nonprofit good government organization.

The federal government distinguishes itself, by its design and function, as a largely apolitical body of millions of workers who carry out policy set by the president or Congress. Federal workers are hired on the basis of their merits, though the upper echelons of cabinet agencies and departments are led by political appointees.

There are roughly 4,000 appointees serving besides their colleagues in the 2.2 million-large workforce. As early as the 1800s, workers have been legally shielded from cronyism and nepotism, though even the founding fathers recognized a need for government to resemble and serve its people, above all others.

Despite these measures intended to preserve a nonpartisan workforce, trust in government has been in decline since the 1960s. Experts worry deepening mistrust could impact voting and engagement, ultimately disincentivizing citizens to engage with and provide feedback to their government altogether.

This also comes at a time when federal agencies are trying to use modern technology to improve their relationship with constituents through more user-friendly websites, digital filing systems and in-person recruiting. That seems to have made an impact, given about half of respondents said they’re satisfied with their personal interactions with the government.

Still, concerted efforts made by agencies to hire young workers may be stunted by levels of mistrust particularly among those ages 18 to 34. The data shows trust fell from 30% to 15% since 2022.

The survey also supports findings that Republicans are even less likely to have confidence in their government.

Policy experts organizations that watch the government and even members of Congress have noted that attacks on the civil service have gained steam in conservative circles. Donald Trump attempted to reclassify thousands of career employees to at-will status, and his campaign supporters and potential vice presidential hopefuls have urged a similar process to take a renewed look at tranches of unelected “bureaucrats.”

Almost two-thirds said there are “many” civil servants that refuse to cooperate with policies they disagree with, with almost 79% of Republicans affirming that statement compared to 55% of Democrats. Fewer than a quarter said civil servants were nonpartisan.

Though Democrats tend to be more pro-government, a sense of efficacy even among members of this party have declined over the last two years.

“That progressive system has broken down in our time, and the only real solution is for the national government to do less: to decentralize and privatize as much as possible and then ensure that the remaining bureaucracy is managed effectively along the lines of the enduring principles set out in detail here,” wrote authors of the 2025 Presidential Transition Project, a conservative playbook for the next administration’s leaders organized by the Heritage Foundation.

The Partnership warns that’s the opposite of what the public wants.

“Critically, the American people do not believe that further politicizing the civil service is a good way to improve our government’s ability to deal with national problems,” according to the findings.

For example, about 75% said they don’t believe a president should be able to fire a civil servant for “any reason,” and 90% said government loses on effectiveness when it’s motivated by politics.

Trust fell even when surveying across racial and ethnic groups, but especially for Hispanic or Latino respondents. This group saw trust in government among members fall to 23% from 45% two years ago.

In general, there were higher numbers of respondents who felt the government is wasteful, corrupt and inept than there are those who deemed it accountable, useful and attentive to public needs.

Molly Weisner is a staff reporter for Federal Times where she covers labor, policy and contracting pertaining to the government workforce. She made previous stops at USA Today and McClatchy as a digital producer, and worked at The New York Times as a copy editor. Molly majored in journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

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