Since 2015, opinions about the federal government’s handling of several major issues have become less positive, according to the Pew Research Center. Yet majorities continue to say the government should have a “major role” on such issues as defending against terrorism and helping lift people from poverty. And views about government’s role, unlike its performance, have changed only modestly over the past two years.
Public trust in government, meanwhile, remains close to a historic low, the research says. Just 18% say they trust the federal government to do the right thing “just about always” or “most of the time” – a figure that has changed very little for more than a decade.
And while more Republicans say they trust the government today than did so during the Obama administration, just 22% of Republicans and even fewer Democrats (15%) say they trust the government at least most of the time.
Among the public overall, there have been 15-percentage-point declines in positive evaluations of government performance in responding to natural disasters. On several other issues, including terrorism, the public’s ratings of the government’s performance have changed little over the past two years.
The new national survey by Pew Research Center, conducted Nov. 29-Dec. 4 among 1,503 U.S. adults, updates measures on the government’s role and performance from a major study of attitudes about government conducted in 2015.
Across all 12 issues, about two-thirds or more of the public say the government should have a major role. And on nearly all issues, positive assessments of the government’s performance lag well behind the shares who think the government should play a major role.
Large majorities say the government should play a major role in keeping the country safe from terrorism (94%), responding to natural disasters (89%) and ensuring that food and medicine are safe (87%). Somewhat smaller majorities – about six-in-ten or more – say the government is doing at least a somewhat good job in each of these areas.
In other areas, there are much wider differences between views of the government’s role and performance. For example, while 80% of the public says the government should play a major role in managing the country’s immigration system, just 32% say it’s doing a good job in this area. Similarly, two-thirds think the government should be involved in helping people get out of poverty; just 26% rate the government positively in dealing with poverty – the lowest rating for any issue in the survey.
According to the research, Republicans are particularly positive about the federal government’s response to natural disasters. Nearly nine-in-ten Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (88%) say the government does a very or somewhat good job responding to natural disasters, compared with 51% of Democrats and Democratic leaners.
Both Republicans and Democrats favor government involvement in managing the country’s immigration system, the research says, but just 38% of Republicans and 29% of Democrats think the government is doing a good job addressing this issue.
While minorities in both parties offer positive ratings of the government on managing the immigration system, the share of Republicans saying the government does a good job has more than doubled since 2015, from 15% to 38%. Democrats’ views are less positive than they were then (29% now, 40% then).
There continues to be common ground among partisans regarding the government’s role on a number of other issues, the research says. Comparable shares in both parties say the government should play a major role in defending against terrorism, managing the immigration system, responding to natural disasters, maintaining infrastructure and ensuring safe food and medicine.
Only about one-in-five Americans (18%) say they trust the federal government to do what is right just about always or most of the time. Two-thirds of Americans say they can trust the government only some of the time, while 14% volunteer they can never trust the government.
Overall, the public’s current ratings for government performance are more positive than negative on five of 12 issues, including keeping the country safe from terrorism, setting fair standards for workplaces and responding to natural disasters.
The government’s ratings on four issues – poverty, immigration, health care and the environment – are, on balance, negative, the research says. On three other issues, the public’s views are more mixed.
On alleviating poverty and managing immigration, in particular, sizable proportions (42% and 38%, respectively) say the government does a very bad job. By comparison, just 6% say the government does a very good job in helping people out of poverty and 7% say it does very well in managing the immigration system.
There is bipartisan criticism of the government’s performance in managing the immigration system: Majorities of Democrats (67%) and Republicans (59%) rate the government’s performance negatively. Both liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans are highly critical of the government on immigration (50% of liberal Democrats say it does a very bad job, as do 43% of conservative Republicans).