Americans love government — as long as it’s their own

April 15, 2013

Congress and the federal government continue to struggle with historically low approval ratings, as Americans grow tired of gridlock in Washington and hold both major parties in low regard.

But when it comes to government in general, Americans are actually pretty darn happy.

A significant majority of Americans continue to view their state and local governments in a positive light, according to a new poll from the Pew Research Center. The poll shows 57 percent approve of their state government, while 63 percent like their local government. That contrasts starkly with the 28 percent who view the federal government favorably -- a new low for those numbers in Pew polls.


The percentage of people expressing positive views about their state government has actually risen five points in the last year, and notably comes as several state governments confront difficult issues including abortion, gun control, illegal immigration and gay marriage.

Even as state governments deal with these tough issues and budget problems, though, they continue to be generally popular.

In fact, even in the 24 states where Republicans control state government, Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters approve of their state government by a 50-46 margin. (By contrast, just 30 percent of Republicans in Democratic-controlled states give their government positive marks.)

By the same token, Americans still like their own members of Congress just fine, with a steady majority approving of them, even as Congress as a whole is less popular than head lice, brussels sprouts and -- perhaps most illustrating -- Nickelback.


So what's the upshot?

Essentially, Americans dislike government, but only insofar as it is not the people they elected or have some personal connection to. 'It's those other guys messing it up' is the prevailing feeling.

We need to remember that, even as we continue to see report after report about how much Americans dislike Congress and the federal government -- for the first time since Obama became president, for example, a majority of Democrats dislike the federal government -- the practical effect of that is negligible.

As long as people continue to approve of their own members of Congress and the people running their own states, the prospects for political upheaval and major changes remain slim -- especially given how partisan the country is, how uncompetitive the House map is drawn, and how difficult it is to launch a formidable primary challenge to an incumbent member of Congress.

Until those latter three factors change, the federal government isn't going to change.

Aaron Blake covers national politics and writes regularly for The Fix.
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