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What’s the Point? Despite Low Levels of Trust, Americans Still Want Government To Play a Major Role in Key Areas

What’s the Point? Despite Low Levels of Trust, Americans Still Want Government To Play a Major Role in Key Areas

Americans continue to express displeasure with the federal government but expect it to do a lot on the economy and national security.

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The U.S. Capitol (Photo by Stefan Zaklin/Getty Images)

Negative attitudes toward the federal government are well established and long-standing. Trend data from the Pew Research Center show that public trust in the government remains exceptionally low in the abstract. In Pew’s most recent wave of research from earlier this month, just one-fifth of Americans express trust in the government to do what is right just about always or most of time.

Despite low levels of trust in Washington, Americans still expect the national government to play a prominent role in the major economic, security, and social issues facing the country. For example, as seen in Figure 1, more than 7 in 10 Americans believe that the federal government should play a major role on infrastructure, public health, the economy, natural disasters, safe food and medicine, and immigration, as well as protecting against terrorism and advancing U.S. interests.

Figure 1

More than two-thirds of Americans expect the government to play a major role on environmental protection and access to health care as well. As Pew notes, attitudes cross partisan lines, with majorities of Republicans backing a major role for government on 8 of the 12 areas tested and Democrats backing a major role on all 12.

What’s the point on government? Americans may be skeptical of “the government” in the abstract—and in terms of its performance in some areas—but they understand how important government is to the well-being of the nation and its people. Rather than try to tear down government, or constantly hinder its ability to function properly, political leaders and citizens should work together to help make the government as successful as possible in upholding individual rights, creating economic prosperity for all, and protecting U.S. interests abroad.

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John Halpin

Former Senior Fellow; Co-Director, Politics and Elections

Ruy Teixeira

Former Senior Fellow


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This regular column examines in plain language what Americans need to know about new and interesting public opinion research, from the economy to foreign policy issues.


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