Distrust in government is as old as, well, government. It didn’t take the fiscal cliff, sequester, Right-to-Work, Emergency Managers, or any other lame-brained scheme dealt from the bottom of the political deck to convince voters of the ethical bankruptcy inside the beltway and in Lansing. But the distrust problem is growing and it cuts both ways.
Americans don’t trust the Feds
In 1995, 36 percent of voters believed that government threatened their personal rights, but by 2013, PEW research indicates that number climbed to 53 percent. Who’s to blame? Most pin it on Members of Congress, who’s favorability has plummeted from 62 percent in 1985 to a well-deserved 23 percent today.
Michigan citizens not happy with Snyder
The annual MSU State of the State Survey conducted last Fall, certainly isn’t favorable for Gov. Snyder, and that’s before Right-to-Work and the Detroit Emergency Manager. Statewide, Snyder averaged a 35.5 percent approval rating, but in Detroit he came in at 23.5 percent, Lansing-area gave him 28.7 percent, and bringing-up the rear was the Upper Peninsula, scraping bottom at 21.8 percent — worse than the U.S. Congress.
So then, how do Michigan citizens rate in the eyes of their leaders?
In a unique survey conducted late last year, Michigan Public Policy Survey, with the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy/UofM, queried local government officials on their opinions of citizens and their interactions with government. The results indicate there is room for improvement.
- More than half of Michigan’s local leaders (53%) say they trust their citizens to be responsible participants in local governance “nearly always” or “most of the time.” However, almost a third (32%) feel they can only trust their citizens “some of the time,” and small percentages feel they can trust their citizens “seldom” (10%) or “almost never” (3%).
- Regarding potential factors tied to leaders’ trust levels, officials who feel that their citizens are engaged with their local government are more likely to say they trust their citizens to be responsible participants. Eighty percent of officials who say their citizens are very engaged report high levels of trust in their citizens, compared with only 39% of those who say their citizens are not very engaged.
- Trust among local leaders also corresponds to other beliefs they express about their citizens, including: whether citizens are willing to work for the common good, rather than just their own benefit; whether citizens are interested in finding solutions, rather than just complaining; whether citizens are willing to take the time to become well informed on issues facing the jurisdiction; and, whether the tone of political discourse between citizens and officials as well as among citizens themselves in constructive rather than divisive.
Clearly citizens outrank elected leaders on the trustworthiness scale (2 to 1), but these numbers are indicative of a creeping breakdown in communication and an inability to govern effectively largely due to the growing rift of partisan ideologies and resulting public policy collisions — most of which are completely borne out of sheer human stubbornness.
Some citizen distrust of government is likely a healthy thing, but the inverse of that is never a good thing.
Amy Kerr Hardin This article also appears in Voters Legislative Transparency Project