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Americans give higher marks to state and local governments

by Christopher A. Guzman, published

Americans across the political spectrum still give higher marks to their state and local governments compared to the federal government- reflecting a possible libertarian sentiment that could become a factor in the near future.

     "With the two major political parties broadly sharing control of the nation's statehouses and governors' mansions, national ratings of state government are far less partisan than are the ratings of the legislative and executive branches of the federal government. Majorities of Republicans (60%), Independents (59%), and Democrats (52%) say they have a great deal or fair amount of confidence in their state government,"  a Gallup survey released on Monday said.

Gallup's data concluded that two thirds of Americans overall have either a great deal or fair amount of confidence in their local governments to handle local problems. A solid majority of those sampled feel the same way about their state governments.  While the confidence level in state and local governments were near or at these levels in 2008, confidence in statehouses fell in 2009 when many began to tackle budgetary crises. Currently, 68% of Americans have confidence in their local government to handle problems, while 58% have confidence in their state government to do the same.

By contrast, Gallup found that less than a third of Americans have solid confidence in the legislative and executive branches of government at the federal level. Only 5% say that they have a great deal of confidence in the legislative branch. The executive branch enjoys the support of only 17% of Americans who claim to have a great deal of confidence. 

A high degree of confidence in local government has been presistent while the legislative and executive branches of the federal government have seen generally diminishing confidence ratings. It's worthy to note that the decline in confidence hasn't been confined to one political party at the federal level. Public sentiment in recent years shows a lack of confidence in members of both parties to implement effective policy.

Gallup pointed out that confidence fell annually during the presidency of President George W. Bush from 2002 through 2008. Although surging briefly in 2008 after the election of President Barack Obama, confidence in the federal government has also fallen since he took office.

Since 1997, confidence in state and local governments has remained steadily higher compared to the legislative and executive branches. While state and local governments have lost 11 percentage points of public trust during these twenty four years, the federal government has lost fifteen percentage points or more.   These latest findings serve as yet another indication that Americans see a broken system in Washington. They reflect the fact that Americans largely trust governments at the local and state levels to know the needs of their communities better than some far-off federal body. 

State and local governments should leverage the public trust they enjoy to listen to the needs of their constituents in order to effectively arrive at customed solutions. By doing so, these state and local governments can offset the damages of a federal government driven more and more by partisan rhetoric instead of working together for the good of its citizens.

Gallup's results were based on telephone interviews conducted of a random sample of 1,017 U.S. adults from September 8-11, 2011. The poll was conducted with 95% confidence, and the margin of error was +/- 4 percentage points.   

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