The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

There are a remarkably small number of people who trust the government

Buried in a massive Pew study on the public's feelings about data and open government is this amazing nugget: Just 23 percent trust the federal government to do the right thing "at least most of the time."

Twenty three percent! That's unpopularity-of-Congress territory. Journalist-trust territory! Donald Trump's approval ratings look down on those numbers!

Not surprisingly, how you feel about the federal government depends somewhat on your party affiliation. Twice as many Democrats as Republicans say they trust the government to do the right thing most of the time, a function of the fact that the "government" is currently represented, symbolically speaking, by a Democratic president. Those splits would likely reverse themselves if a Republican was in the White House.

There are also a few intriguing demographic and age differences. Young people (age 18 to 29 for these purposes) are nine points more likely to trust the federal government to do the right thing than those over 65. Whites (19 percent) are the least likely race/ethnicity to trust the government; Hispanics (33 percent) are the most likely. People who live in urban areas (28 percent) are more likely to trust the federal government than those who live in rural areas (22 percent).

One thing that everyone -- regardless of party, ethnicity, education level or anything else -- agrees on is that state government is, slightly, better than the federal government and that local government is far superior to either of the other two.

The remarkably low level of trust in our federal government probably shouldn't surprise me all that much given how much attention the National Security Agency spying scandal, the Internal Revenue Service's targeting of conservatives and the botched roll-out of have received over the past few years. There's also the fact that trust in institutions -- any institution -- has faded in recent years.

But the fact that so few Americans believe the federal government gets it right most of the time presents a massive challenge for any elected official who is part of the government leviathan.  If people don't fundamentally trust that you will do the right thing(s) for them, it's almost impossible (or close to it) to connect with them on any level. That's politics 101.