American's Trust in Government Hits New Low

Trust in government is at an all-time low, according to a CNN/ORC International poll conducted over the weekend. A USA Today/Gallup poll similarly shows that most Americans believe President Obama and Congress are doing a worse job than previous presidents and Congresses.

Only 15 percent of respondents said “You can trust the government in Washington to do what is right” “just about always” or “most of the time.”

Seventy-seven percent of respondents answered “only some of the time.” Eight percent volunteered “never,” even though it was not offered as one of the choices.

Ninety percent of Republicans said you can only trust government some of the time or never. Democrats showed the most trust in government, but there was still a strong majority – 73 percent – that answered “only some of the time” or “never.”

Tea Party supporters were the mostly likely, at 98 percent, to show distrust in government. Even 81 percent of those who said they oppose the Tea Party said they only trust government to do what is right some of the time or never.

Fifty-two percent of Americans also think that Obama and Congress are doing a worse job of dealing with the nation's problems than presidents and Congress in the past. Most of that attitude is driven, however, by Republicans (71 percent) and independents (59 percent). Only 20 percent of Democrats think Obama and the current Congress is doing a worse job than previous governments.

Americans' frustration with the current government may stem from the pervasive gridlock in Washington. The battle to raise the nation's debt ceiling was the primary news coming from the Capitol Hill for most of July, and recently there was more news of a potential government shutdown due to partisan gridlock.

News of wasteful government spending, such as $16 muffins paid for by the Justice Department, and government overreach, such as the raid on the Gibson guitar factory, may also be contributing to the results.

Trust in government has been on the decline since the Watergate scandal. Some political scientists have raised concerns about this trend, arguing that trust is an essential component of a healthy democracy. Others, such as Timothy E. Cook, professor of political science at Louisiana State University, and Paul Gronke, associate professor of political science at Reed College, argue that the decline in trust in government is really measuring skepticism, and some skepticism may be healthy for democracy.

The CNN/ORC International poll was conducted Sept. 23-25, with 1,010 American adults. The margin of error is +/- 3 percentage points.

The USA Today/Gallup poll was conducted Sept. 15-18, with 1,004 American adults. The margin of error is +/- 4 percentage points.