Public likes local government, but Washington not so much

Jake Turcotte

With many states in financial trouble, a new poll finds that favorability ratings of state governments have declined from a year ago. A new national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press found that 50 percent of the public now holds a favorable opinion of their state government, down from 59 percent in April 2008.

Not surprisingly, the falloff in positive views has been greater in states with large and moderate budget shortfalls than in states with smaller budget gaps.

“As positive ratings of state governments have declined, people’s ratings of their local governments have remained relatively stable,” Andrew Kohut, President of the Pew Research Center, said in a statement.

Americans like their local governments

By nearly a two-to-one margin, Americans express a favorable opinion of their local governments. The 60 percent favorability rating for local governments is largely unchanged from April 2008, Pew found.

The Pew poll, conducted July 22-26, found that ratings for the federal government have rebounded a bit. Some 50 percent of those surveyed now have an unfavorable opinion of the federal government while 42 percent hold a favorable view. By comparison, in April 2008 views of the federal government were the lowest they have been in a decade – 58 percent unfavorable, 37 percent favorable.

Uncle Sam through a partisan lens

But below the surface of the data, “partisan views of the federal government have shifted dramatically,” Mr. Kohut said. Again, not surprising since a different party assumed control of the White House in January 2009.

Pew found that 61 percent of Democrats now have a favorable opinion of the federal government, up from 29 percent in April 2008 when George Bush was president. By comparison, favorable views among Republicans have declined from 53 percent to 24 percent since Mr. Bush left office. Some 58 percent of independents express negative opinions, relatively unchanged from the spring of last year.

There is less of a partisan divide in favorability ratings for state and local governments than for the federal government. Some 57 percent of Republicans have a favorable opinion of their state government, versus 49 percent of Democrats and 48 percent of independents.

When Pew asked about local governments, majorities across partisan lines offered favorable opinions.

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