Gallup pollsters focused at the state level, where so much of the action on policy that directly affects people's lives goes on.
What they found is that Americans are more confident with their Republican-led state governments than Democratic ones. But drill down a bit, and it's clear that politics may not be the reason why.
In the 22 states that have a GOP majority in the state legislature and a GOP governor, the average confidence level is 60 percent. In the seven states that are fully Democratic, that number is 52 percent. So, slightly but clearly lower. But is it enough to draw a correlation?
Gallup's Jeffrey Jones dug deeper into the data and doesn't think so. There are a few factors that seem to hurt or help Americans' confidence in their government, and only one is directly related to which political party is in power. Let's run down the list:
Things that hurt confidence in state government
Corruption: This one's kind of obvious and directly connected to politicians. Illinois and Louisiana, two states that have suffered through several corruption scandals in recent decades, rank among the least confident in Gallup's survey. Illinois's confidence measure is the only one low enough to hit the 20s, at 25 percent. There's also a stalemate between the Republican governor and the Democratic legislature over the budget, and high-profile battles over teacher pensions and police brutality drama in the state's most populous city, Chicago, might be contributing to that. But overall, corruption = bad for confidence in state government.
Being from a large state, population-wise: Some of the least-confident states are from the Northeast, but not all states from the Northeast are unhappy with their state governments. So rather than make a regional connection, Gallup pollsters think the link might be population. Elected officials can't make everyone in a crowded state -- meaning people with diverse living conditions and thus diverse wants and needs -- happy. So they compromise, and that may influence how confident people feel with their state government.
Things that help confidence in state government
Economic well-being: Perhaps the most influential factor in Americans' confidence in their state government has more to do with money than politics. Illinois, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Jersey and Kansas all rank among the states in which residents are the least confident about their state government -- and the least positive about their state's economy, Gallup's Jones notes. (Rhode Island's and Connecticut's low confidence rankings may be what's dragging down Democratic-controlled states' confidence ratings as a whole.) We'd add that several of the most-confident states in the Great Plains region are enjoying a natural gas boom right now.
Being from a less-populous, small state: Gallup found that an average of 64 percent of residents in the smallest 10 states have confidence in their state government, a fairly high number. Again, the reason may be that in smaller states people live similarly and thus have similar wants and needs the government can more easily address.
Things that may not matter in state confidence
Surprisingly, a divided government: Gallup found that 58 percent of residents in states where one party controls the state legislature and governorship say they're confident. Yet 55 percent of residents in states with split government say they're also confident in their state government. This suggests the stalemates that have so affected Congress's reputation may not extend to state lawmakers and state governors. Or that divided government at the state level doesn't automatically mean nothing gets done, like it often does at the federal level.
A Republican or Democratic governor: Here we see similar numbers. Average confidence in states led by a Republican is 58 percent, while average confidence in states led by a Democrat is 55 percent. And some of the highest confidence measures came from states with Democratic-controlled everything, Delaware (65 percent) and Vermont (60 percent).
The bottom line from this survey is that how Americans feel about their elected leaders may not entirely be in those leaders' hands.