Sunday, February 5, 2012

An anti-government mood?

A number of writers have recently said that the public is in an "anti-government mood," so it's not inclined to support liberal policies.  When such writers cite surveys, they usually point to a question about whether people "trust the government in Washington to do what is right." The problem is that answers to this question probably reflect feelings about the people making decisions, not about government in general.  That is, a person might distrust "the government in Washington" because it's not taking a more activist role. 

However, there is a more relevant question that's been asked a number of times since 1994, mostly by Pew.  People are asked to choose between "Government is almost always wasteful and inefficient" and "government often does a better job than people give it credit for."  Here is a graph of the percent who choose "wasteful and inefficient":


The results for April 2002 seem questionable:  the Roper Center reports that 39% agreed and 51% disagreed, but once in a while they make a mistake, and 51% agreement would be more consistent with the rest of the data.  Regardless of which is the right figure, beliefs about government have become more negative since about 2001, but are less negative than they were in the mid-1990s.

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