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Poll: Majority of public has lost faith in government ability to fix economy

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Barely one in four Americans has confidence that the federal government has the ability to fix economic problems, and most share Standard & Poor’s indictment of the country’s policy-making process, according to a new Washington Post poll.

The spreading lack of confidence is matched by an upsurge in dissatisfaction with the country’s political system and a widespread sense that S&P’s characterization of U.S. policy-making as increasingly “less stable, less effective and less predictable” is a fair one.

The results have sharp edges for both Republicans and Democrats, as record numbers say they’re interested in new congressional representation when the November 2012 elections roll around.

When it comes to economic issues, the erosion in public trust is deep: Just 26 percent now have even some faith the government can actually solve problems. Confidence is down 21 percentage points from October 2010, and less than half its 2002 levels.

One big issue is public concern that the government is failing to address major problems. More than seven in 10 Americans say the federal government is “mostly focused on the wrong things,” a sentiment that is also sharply higher than it was last fall. The notion that the government has misplaced priorities is shared by majorities across party lines, but the agreement ends there.

Two-thirds of Republicans who see the government as focused on the wrong things say President Obama and the Democrats are to blame, while nearly as many Democrats point the finger at the GOP. Among independents, a plurality – 43 percent – volunteer that both sides are at fault.

It all adds up to growing disillusionment with the system itself.

Fully 78 percent of those polled are unhappy with the country’s political system, up significantly from two years ago. Now, nearly half — 45 percent — are “very dissatisfied.” Dissatisfaction crosses party lines, with intense unhappiness peaking among independents, more than half of whom report being very dissatisfied.

It might be little surprise then that 71 percent see S&P’s political analysis in its downgrade announcement — lambasting the country’s policy-making process — as accurate. Fewer, 52 percent, say the downgrade was a fair read on the country’s financial situation.

Bolstering the public’s rough assessment of the political system are sliding ratings for both Obama and congressional Republicans when it comes to making the right decisions for the country’s economic future. Confidence in Obama is down double-digits from January, and confidence in congressional Republicans, already lower, has been sliced in half.

The fall-off for both parties parallels the big drop in confidence the government can fix economic problems even when it decides to do so. On that front, the number expressing no confidence at all nearly doubled since October 2010. About half of political independents now say “none” when asked about their confidence here, more than double the proportion saying so in the fall.

Despite metastasizing dissatisfaction, 77 percent of Americans agree with the statement “whatever its faults, the United States still has the best system of government in the world.” That number is unmoved from October 2010.

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Polling manager Peyton M. Craighill and polling analyst Scott Clement contributed to this report.

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