Public Approval of State and Local Government Rises, Federal Rating Tumbles

Public approval of state governments is at its highest since 2008, while views of Washington have plummeted to an all-time low, according to a new survey.
by | April 19, 2013

A new survey signals the public's perception of state and local governments improved while opinions of their counterparts in Washington plummeted to an all-time low.

The Pew Research Center published survey results this week indicating Americans give the highest marks to their local governments, with 63 percent reporting favorable views, up 2 percent from a year ago. Favorable perceptions of state governments similarly ticked up to 57 percent, a 5 percent increase from a year ago, representing the highest rating since 2008.

By contrast, it’s no surprise fewer and fewer Americans hold the federal government in high regard. A mere 28 percent rated Washington favorably in the March survey, the lowest rating Pew has ever recorded.

National Governors Association Executive Director Dan Crippen attributed states’ improved ratings to governors guiding their states through the recession and demonstrating an ability to make tough decisions.

“Governors and legislators have work to get done and they do it,” he said. “It’s the juxtaposition between them and Washington’s apparent gridlock.”

For governors, 55 percent of survey respondents held favorable views and 30 percent reported unfavorable views.

Crippen said recent natural disasters put them in the spotlight, showcasing their ability to manage situations. Many of the newer governors also took steps to raise their profiles. “You’ll see them surfacing as leaders in their state and region,” Crippen said.

Similar percentages of Democrats and Republicans view state and local governments favorably. When comparing partisan control of state governments, the 13 states with split control recorded the highest favorability rating, at 61 percent.

Historically, citizens typically hold better views of those governing closest to where they reside, hence the higher ratings for localities. However, the gap between how the public perceives state and local governments compared to Washington has further widened in recent years.

The federal government’s favorability rating soared after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, but has since steadily fallen. The last time the majority of Americans held a favorable view of the federal government was nearly a decade ago, when 59 percent approved in 2004.

Fewer Democrats holding favorable opinions explains part of the more recent decline. Their favorability ratings dropped 10 points from last year to 41 percent. By comparison, only 27 percent of independents and 13 percent of Republicans view the federal government favorably.

Pew surveyed 1,501 adults in March. The results mirror public opinion reflected in other polling.

Results of a Gallup survey published in September found an increase in trust of state and local governments. The overwhelming majority – 74 percent of respondents – reported a “great deal” or “fair amount” of trust in local government, the highest level recorded since 1999. Similarly, 65 percent felt the same way about state governments, a four-year high.

Residents in the South expressed the most confidence in state government in the Gallup survey, while the western U.S. trailed other regions.

Another survey released last summer, conducted by Rasmussen Reports, asked Americans the level of government they trusted the most. Forty percent favored local government, 23 percent preferred the federal government and 12 percent most trusted states.

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