Public Distrust in Government
BLS Research & Consulting recently partnered with Purpose and the Omidyar Network to better understand the public’s perceptions of the government’s role and place in their lives. In focus groups conducted in both Ohio and New York, we found very low levels of trust in government as well as an inability to see government’s relevance (even among people in government jobs!). Most people we talked to believe the government is dominated by special interests and corporate donors that influence the agenda and the decisions of elected representatives. This leaves very little belief that government operates in the interests of the people.
Distrust in government is a problem for a variety of reasons, but one of them is that it prevents voters from engaging on policy issues. It’s not that voters don’t care- in fact, we found some voters were very supportive of a broad array of progressive issues, including economic policies that would level the playing field. But they don’t have confidence that government can effect those policies, which leads to their disengagement. As Joelle Gamble of Omidyar Network explains:
“While many citizens believe in the desired outcomes of policies like affordable healthcare, accessible education, and reasonable checks on corporate power, they are skeptical about whether government — regardless of which party or individual is in charge — can deliver.”
The prevailing narrative- that money and special interests influence government- is a tough one to shake, among Republicans and Democrats alike. What’s needed is an alternative narrative that articulates not only the problem, but the solution. What’s possible in a world where the government functions and acts in the interests of the people? Voters need an aspirational vision that they can believe in. This is the ambitious and bold work in which the Omidyar Network engages, and we at BLS are excited to keep following this organization and the important work they are doing.
Read more about this project here.