“I am obliged to confess,” wrote William F. Buckley, Jr. in 1963, “that I should sooner live in a society governed by the first two thousand names in the Boston telephone directory than in a society governed by the two thousand people on the faculty of Harvard University.”
A similar sentiment seems to now be shared by a majority of the American people. A recent survey by Pew Research finds that 55 percent of the public believes “ordinary Americans” would do a better job of solving national problems than would our elected leaders. An even greater percentage (57 percent) say they are frustrated with the federal government, while fewer than 1 in 5 (18 percent) say they are basically content.
Despite this frustration, half or more say the federal government is doing a “very good” or “somewhat good” job in 10 of the 13 governmental functions tested in the survey. The areas where the federal government receives the lowest remarks are in managing the nation’s immigration system and helping people get out of poverty. Nearly seven-in-ten (68 percent) say the government does a very or somewhat bad job in managing the immigration system and 61 percent say the government is doing a bad job helping people out of poverty.
The survey also finds that only about a third of Republicans and Republican leaners see a major role for the federal government in helping people get out of poverty (36 percent) and ensuring access to health care (34 percent) while fully 72 percent of Democrats and Democratic leaners say the government should have a major role in helping people out of poverty, and 83 percent say it should play a major role in ensuring access to health care.
Here are some other notable takeaways from the survey:
• The public’s trust in government remains at historic lows. Today, just 19 percent say they trust the federal government to do what is right always or most of the time, which is little changed from recent years.
• Only 29 percent say that “honest” describes elected officials very or fairly well, a much smaller share than those who describe the average American as honest (69 percent).
• The perception that elected officials don’t care about what people think is now held more widely than it has been in recent years. Today, 74 percent say this, compared with a narrower 55 percent majority who said the same in 2000.
• Majorities see the national news media (65 percent) and the entertainment industry (56 percent) as having a negative impact on the country. By contrast, overwhelming majorities see small businesses (82 percent) and technology companies (71 percent) as having a positive impact.
• Nearly seven-in-ten liberal Democrats (69 percent) say colleges and universities have a positive impact on the country, compared with just less than half (48 percent) of conservative Republicans. Conversely, fully three-quarters of conservative Republicans say that churches and religious organizations have a positive impact on the country, while just 41 percent of liberal Democrats agree.