Recently on his blog, Peter Levine dives into the longstanding poll question asking whether individuals “trust the government in Washington to do the right thing most of the time?” Given the longitudinal implications of asking the same question since the 1950’s, this the language has not been altered giving pollsters an increasing pessimistic look into the state of mind of the American electorate. We should not overstate it, but this increasing pessimism is concerning. Levine breaks it down:
I worry about the trust-in-government decline for three reasons. First, the government can be a valuable tool for public purposes, and when it’s deeply distrusted, voters won’t allow it to be used. In other words, distrust will prevent ambitious government. But–second–distrust will not necessarily curb or limit government. When the state is widely distrusted, interests still use it for private gain and don’t have to worry about a mass public that has higher expectations. So a distrusted government can be intrusive and expensive without doing much good. And, third, the trend line of distrust may–in part–reflect declining trustworthiness. Alexander Hamilton proposed as a “general rule” that people’s “confidence in and obedience to a government will commonly be proportioned to the goodness or badness of its administration.”
The founders set up our government so that citizens should not have to trust the government, but that the government was responsible to the people. When people drop out from keeping the government accountable, common citizens do not reap the benefits that government can bring.
We have to find ways to reengage the public and give them an outlet in government for the issues that affect their lives.
Matt Impink is a former US History Teacher and Education Policy Advocate. He is currently a Graduate Student at IU’s School for Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA) in Indianapolis and curates the Civic Blog. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and tweets @mrimpink.