The Daily Escape:
Hooded Merganser with fish, Housatonic River, CT – February, 2019 photo by JH Clery
Disenchantment with the government has become an important part of America’s current mindset. A recent Gallup survey that found that 35% of Americans surveyed named the government as the “top problem” facing the US:
“Gallup has asked Americans what they felt was the most important problem facing the country since 1939 and has regularly compiled mentions of the government since 1964. Prior to 2001, the highest percentage mentioning government was 26% during the Watergate scandal. Thus, the current measure is the highest in at least 55 years.”
(Gallup’s poll was a telephone survey of 1,016 adults in all 50 US states and the District of Columbia. The survey has a margin of error of ± 4%. It was conducted between Feb 1st – 10th, 2019)
This is more significant because this time, Gallup’s question was open-ended, unlike the usual form of the question that Gallup has been asking for decades. In the previous version, Gallup asks “which of the following will be the biggest threat to the country in the future—big business, big labor, or big government?”
What’s driving the current historic discontent with government isn’t that government does too much, but that government does too little. Gallup speculates that the increase reflects public frustration with the government shutdown that occurred from late December through most of January. They observed a similar double-digit spike after the 2013 government shutdown, when it climbed from 16% in September 2013, to 33% in October 2013.
Gallup reports that 11% of respondents cited “Donald Trump” as the most important problem, while 5% name “the Democrats” or “liberals” and just 1% named “Congress.” Since January 2017, about the time Trump took office, the government has been the top problem each month, except in Gallup’s November poll, and in July 2018. In both of those months, immigration edged out the government at the top of the list. After the government, the most important problems according to Gallup’s latest poll were immigration, at 19%, and health care, at 6%.
Gallup began asking about the “most important problem” on a monthly basis in 2001; since then, only a few times and a few issues have matched or exceeded the 35% currently mentioning the government:
- After the 9/11 attacks, mentions of “terrorism” topped the list as the most important problem, peaking at 46% in October 2001.
- Mentions of the situation in Iraq escalated in early 2007 after G.W. Bush’s announcement of the “surge”. “Iraq” was cited as the biggest problem by 38% in February of that year.
- In November, 2008, the percentage of Americans naming “the economy” reached 58%.
- In 2011, as Obama was laying out an ambitious job creation plan, 39% saw unemployment as our major problem.
This time, by frequency of mention, government is our biggest problem among a list of 47 national problems, not terrorism, or the economy or unemployment. Those were individual crises that our government responded to. Now, we’re saying that government itself is dysfunctional.
And Gallup revealed:
“While Democrats were more likely than Republicans to name government and leadership as the top problem facing the nation in the year leading up to the latest poll, both party groups are now about as likely to name government as the top US problem.”
As we might expect, Republicans disproportionately mention Democrats or liberals as the problem, while Democrats (as well as independents) disproportionately mention Trump.
Gallup concludes that while Democrats and Republicans are currently aligned in their negative view, it is for different reasons. For Democrats, the shutdown was caused by a stalemate over a border wall they overwhelmingly rejected, promoted by a president they dislike. Gallup speculates that for Republicans, it is the ramifications of losing control of the House of Representatives and their party’s inability to pass more legislation while it was in power.
This bears watching as the presidential primary season takes form. The poll may offer some fodder for one or more candidates to harness the frustrations of voters who are saying that they are fed up with the gridlock and hyper-partisanship in Washington that has only grown with time.
There’s a window here, the question is who can seize the opportunity. Already, some right-wing pundits are linking the growing disapproval of government by Republicans with the Democrats’ embrace of Medicare for All and other “socialist” programs.
It’s time to wake up, America! People are starting to understand that dysfunctional government isn’t in their interest. The time is right for a messenger who can harness the frustration and move the country back to a functioning democracy.