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What's driving Americans' lack of faith in government ability to solve problems?

Among both Democrats and Republicans, there is an eroding trust in government institutions, a new Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research survey has found. 

Paul Sancya/AP
President Obama speaks in Detroit on Jan. 20. As the first voting for the presidential race draws closer, most Americans say they continue to doubt the government's ability to solve the nation's problems.

Most Americans from both parties continue to doubt the federal government is up to the challenge of facing what they see as the nation’s top priorities, a new survey has found.

Just one week before the first presidential primary, The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research released a poll, conducted in December, showing that more than 60 percent of respondents expressed little or no confidence that the government can confront the problems facing the United States in 2016.

The poll echoes other studies from the last two years which suggest that sharp partisanship in Congress, coupled with a morass of bureaucracy in the executive branch, have led to an eroding trust among Americans – both Democrat and Republican – in government institutions.

“They can't even seem to get together and pass anything that's of any importance,” said Doris Wagner, a Republican from Alabama, according to the AP. “It's so self-serving what they do.”

"They aren't doing anything for you and me," added Lee Cato, a Democrat from Texas.

Among the issues respondents said they felt were most pressing: terrorism and health care, each mentioned by about a third of those questioned, as well as the economy and domestic affairs. About two-thirds of respondents referred to an economic issue as a top priority, and about 80 percent cited a domestic policy besides the economy.

Nearly half also named a foreign policy issue other than terrorism, and immigration was next on the list.

The AP-NORC findings around trust in government show little change from a Gallup poll from more than a year ago, which saw record lows in confidence in the US Supreme Court and Congress, and a six-year low for the presidency.

A more recent Pew Research Center study, conducted between August and October 2015, noted that “the American public is generally as distrustful and dissatisfied with the federal government as ever,” The Monitor reported at the time.

Still, some optimism remains.

The Pew survey, for instance, found that despite broad distrust with the political establishment – which has propelled “outsider” candidates such as Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders into the spotlight – majority of Americans still say the government has a critical role to play in solving specific issues. And in some issues – such as responding to natural disasters and protecting the environment – the public still thinks the government is doing a good job.

A similar, though cautious, sense of hope can be found among the respondents to the AP-NORC survey.

"America is a resilient nation," said Kentucky Independent Waylon Cain. "You've got every kind of walk of life here. We all have experiences in different areas. I don't think at any point in time we're headed down a hole we can't get ourselves out of.”

This report contains material from The Associated Press.

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