Live-blogging Midmorning: The people and their government

A new study by the Pew Center sparks a debate on the role of trust and mistrust in American political life. Less than a quarter of Americans polled say they trust their government. Some experts say people in this country rarely express confidence in Congress and the executive branch. Others note a disturbing trend of increased polarization in government and among voters.


Paul Gronke: Associate professor of political science at Reed College and co-author of “The Skeptical American: Revisiting the Meanings of Trust in Government and Confidence in Institutions.”

William Galston: Senior Fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution and co-author of “Democracy at Risk: How Political Choices Undermine Citizen Participation and What We Can Do About It.” Galston served in the Clinton administration as executive director of the National Commission on Civic Renewal.

  • Kerry

    Are these polls consistent with responses from the last administration? Is it possible to qualify how anything has changed in daily lives from one administration to the next?

  • Kerry

    I also wonder if Obama’s constant engagement with the public in an articulate and nuisanced way, with a lot of transparency, if people understand how government functions.

    I think have 2 year terms for congress is extremely unproductive. Congress needs to constantly be fundraising and campaigning, so essentially all congress has a pricetag unless they are in a district where they know they will win.

    Is there any chance term length in congress will be extended?

  • jim wills

    my mistrust is based on:

    1) years of neglect by congress to the big issues, immigration, income tax reform, etc.

    2) Gerrymandering has shifted the votes of people to reelect only the party member whose party is dominant in the area.

    3) Career politicians not citizen politicians. So we get someone who has been in Washington for years but really not attached to the community they represent, only the benefactors of their campaign

    4) Too many lobbiests, to few citizens contributing ideas to action by congress

    I represent independents, socially liberal, fiscally conservatives

  • Ray

    I think this show regularly dances around the issue on the matter of political divides. The divide is manufactured, largely by the Right and a very well-oiled media machine that has been very successful over the past 2 decades. The “non-partisan” right is really just a carefully coded tool of the Republican Party (funded by exactly the same people) designed to appeal to ignorant bigots. What has changed lately? There’s a black man in the white house. It all comes down to that. Taxes and prices are largely unchanged since Bush (in fact Bush expanded government too) and yet nobody seemed to get agitated about these vague fears until the black guy showed up.

  • Lawrence

    In a free society, especially at the federal level, government cannot and should not be all things to all people. Those willing to abdicate their personal responsibilities for safety and security deserve neither.

  • john

    Government is not direct but selective. One example of many is the Wind Fall Provision signed in by Reagan. This is a tax on those retired with less than 30 but more than 20 years of contributions to social security. The tax reduces their social security pensions by $284 per month to boost the pensions of those who did not make enough contributions during their working career. That is a direct tax on the few to make up a failure of the system rather than fix the system. We have seen the same thing happen with the current health care act and now the finance reform act on Wall Street. This activity is why government is regarded as non effective and suspicious.

  • dave

    I was always skeptical, but actual distrust started when Bush took us to war in Iraq under engineered false pretenses. Which in turn ran up the national debt. That combined with showing no concern for our own citizens via the hurricane Katrina disaster and it’s bungled response, have made it difficult too give government the benefit of the doubt when it comes to their motivations for the welfare of the American people.

  • Mark Johnson

    No legitimate government could force a population to watch The Wizard of Oz annually, but I think folks should do it anyway. Nowadays, the charlatan behind the curtain is not just demagoguing, he’s issuing our money to the executives of failed businesses. The Republicans did it with TARP and the Democrats did it with the Economic Stimulus. At the same time, our SEC essentially protected Madoff as he robbed tens of billions over decades. As for pilots, I’m sorry, government can’t force any pilot to land on any runway. You just have to accept that you are putting trust in a pilot. We need more pilots and less politicians telling pilots how to fly.

  • Michael

    54yo male nurse/ former USAF medic, son of career USAF, married urban dweller: I am skeptical of US gov’t because of incremental growth of executive powers to restrict individual civil liberties & defendants’ rights to fair trials in favor of oligarchic interests; otherwise, am in favor of social, financial reforms, gay marriage & civil rights & against continued prosecution of illegal wars (ie, Iraq/Afghan incursions, especially unless draft instituted)/ even if I diagree w/ what you say, I will defend to the death one’s right to say it & I keep an open mind but not so open my brains fall out

  • justacoolcat

    “The United States of America has the highest incarceration rate in the world. Though home to a little less than 5% of the world’s population, the US holds 25% of the world’s prisoners.”

    Additionally, we also have the highest imprisonment rate aka the sentencing rate.

    What’s to trust?

  • Scott Murphy

    I’m untrusting of government because it does little efficiently or cheaply which annoys me being I am paying for that inefficiency. I am a flaming libertarian so would like to see a much smaller and more restricted government..

  • Joe Schaedler

    I’m every bit as distrustful of the American private sectore society as I am of the government.

    Both have failed spectacularily – the private sector more so than the government ever has (i.e. private sector’s 1929 & 2008 vs the gov’t’s ’70s).

    The only guardian our society has against private sector faults is the government. We need the government, that’s what puts the “necessary” in “gov’t is a necessary evil”.

    We disagree among ourselves as to what is necessary for the government to become involved in (i.e. health care?, energy policy?), and our trust in government sways in reaction to whether the parties in charges of it agree with us in regards to these stances..

  • Bill Jolitz

    While a doctoral student (management and psychometrics) in the mid-1970’s, I had the opportunity to read many of the management, sociological and behavioural theorists from 1870 on. Much of what I read has come too-much true.

    Max Weber: the longer an organization exists, the larger and more complicated it becomes. TRUE! Example: existence of several competing intelligence agencies.

    Max Weber: over time, a “bifurcation of interest” develops between an organization and its clients. The organization considers itself more important than its clients, AND what’s good for the organization differs from what’s good for its clients. TRUE! Example: campaign contributors versus voters.

    C. Northcote Parkinson: every year, it costs more to perform the same amount of work. TRUE! Example: how much the Federal budget grows (removing natural and financial disasters) every year while income doesn’t.

    Lorimer and Lorsch: organizations must maintain the optimal balance of differentiation (territory of task and professional discipline) and integration (pull together as a team). Hyper-differentiation turned territory into fiefdom while hypo-integration never pulls everyone together to work toward a common goal (consistent with Weber). TRUE! Example: Republicans versus Democrats on any topic. Intelligence agencies AGAIN.

    We need the wisdom of the past to inform our vision of the future.

    Bill J

  • Mike D.

    I am skeptical that the federal government will act in my best interests due to where they get their money. The two biggest contributers to both parties are the medical industry (AMA, big pharma, insurance companies) and the investment -banking industry. Is it any wonder these two industries are currently our biggest problems. It also makes it evident as to why the health care reform is a mere shell of what it started out to be. It will be interesting to see what happens with banking reform. I AM SKEPTICAL. FOLLOW THE MONEY. I am not a Tea party member by a long shot. I happen to think that the insurance and medical industry are the main reason the health care bill ended up so watered down (no public option) and feel that the banking reform will go the same way. I may be on the other side of the fence from the tea party but can understand their frustration. What can the average citizen do to compete with high-powered lobbyists and big money? We have more rage than we have money.

  • TJ

    My governmental distrust pretty much comes from the fact that we have institutionalized corruption. Just because we call it “campaign donations” doesn’t mean it isn’t bribery.

    I think a lot of people are in government to do a good job and help people. I think a lot are there to enrich themselves and perpetuate their own power. Unfortunately, I think the latter predominate at the top, because those who have no problem enriching themselves and perpetuating their own power have a distinct advantage in raising money, which as we all know is the #1 prerequisite to winning elections.

  • Mark Johnson

    Joe said:

    >>Both have failed spectacularily – the private sector more so than the government ever has (i.e. private sector’s 1929 & 2008 vs the gov’t’s ’70s).

    The only guardian our society has against private sector faults is the government. We need the government, that’s what puts the “necessary” in “gov’t is a necessary evil”.

  • abc

    >> It has been proven that the Great Depression was caused by government.

  • Rob

    I listened the piece this afternoon entitled “Low trust in government: are Americans wired to be skeptical?” Although it was somewhat interesting, I found myself thinking that the point is being missed. With trust in government the lowest in half of a century, shouldn’t we be asking “why”? Perhaps the following are adding to our collective skepticsim of government: A $4 trillion federal budget, $10+ trillion projected budget decifits, bailouts as far as the eye can see from WallStreet to the UAW, 10% unemployment, and boondoggle heathcare legislation which gets scored as “deficit-nuetral” because it counts 10 years of taxes but only 6 years of benefits. We should also add to that list the economy killing, wealth-transferring Cap and Trade legislation that is rearing its ugly head again [Al Gore’s big pay day]. We could then round out the list of topics to explore with a Value Added Tax which has had such a positive effect in Europe. (Say hello to permanent 15% unemployment).

    Let’s be honest with ourselves, MPR. There are legitimate reasons why trust in government is at a historic low. Running stories on how a chemical deficiency may pre-dispose Americans to trust government less is ignorant at best.

    The founders believed that the role of government was to keep its people free. It’s time to get back those first principles.

  • Bob Collins

    // shouldn’t we be asking “why”?

    Most of the show, and certainly most of the live blog (script above) was about asking “why”

    One of the areas we didn’t cover, however — though we touched on it on the blog — is the tendency of people to assume the answer is the one they want it to be as opposed to significant data. As some people pointed out, their frustration with government may also include government not doing more, rather than doing too much.

  • Rob

    Bob – I appreciate your response to my comments. Just to be clear, my comments posted on Apr 22 were specific to the piece which aired that same afternoon entitled “Low trust in government: are Americans wired to be skeptical?” I don’t recall any focus on asking the question “why” during that piece. If I missed it, my apologies.

    To your last point that some people may believe government may currently not doing enough – I don’t know what to say. For anyone who follows politics at the federal level, I think it’s clear we are in an era where the federal government is trying to intervene into every area of our lives that it possibly can.

    Perhaps I could recommend MPR do a series on what the proper role of government should be in a free society. If we have a better understanding of what Americans expect our of government (as the most free individuals in the world), then maybe we would be in a better position to make assumptions around why their level of trust in government is currently so low?

    In any event, it certainly is interesting. Times like these are very telling. Are we still a country of rugged individuals who pride themselves on self-sufficiency? Or have we drifted towards European-style collectivism?