Washington Post-UMD Poll Finds Only 10% of Americans Trust U.S. Government

As partisan divisiveness related to a host of political hot topics continues to worsen, a new Washington Post-University of Maryland national poll uncovers one issue on which Republicans and Democrats agree: how little they trust the U.S. government.

Only 10% of people responding to this new poll said they trust the federal government to do what is right most or all of the time. Democrats and Republicans indicated similar levels of distrust (both parties at 13%), while Independents are considerably more concerned, with just 5% saying they trust the government in Washington to do what is right at least most of the time.

Trust in state government is higher, but still low, at 23%, while trust in local government is at 31%. Again, Democrats and Republicans responded similarly on these measures.

“Low levels of trust in various levels of government should strike everyone as problematic,” said Associate Professor Michael Hanmer, research director of the Center for American Politics and Citizenship(CAPC). “While there are steep divisions among Democrats and Republicans on a number of issues, on trust across national, state, and local levels, Democrats and Republicans agree. Both parties have their work cut out for them if they wish to convince citizens that the government can serve them well, especially if they want to win Independents who express the least amount of trust in government.”

Seventy percent of respondents representing both major parties say the political divisions apparent in America today are as bad as during the Vietnam War. Meanwhile, 71% of people polled said they believe problems in American politics have reached a “dangerous low point.”

As for Donald Trump’s approval rating, respondents to the Washington Post-UMD poll rated it at 37% overall; with 78% of Republicans, 34% of Independents and 9% of Democrats saying they approve of the way he is handing his job as president.

“Given the increasing criticism by other Republican office-holders, it is noteworthy that Trump remains so popular among Republicans,” Hanmer said. “If Trump continues to rate well with the party base and clash with other Republican politicians, Congressional Republicans might be especially vulnerable in 2018.”

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About the Poll

This is the eighth iteration of the Washington Post-University of Maryland poll but the first on a nationally representative sample. The poll was conducted September 27 through October 5 among 1,663 adults interviewed through the AmeriSpeak Panel, the probability-based survey panel of NORC at the University of Chicago. Interviews were conducted online and by landline and cellular phones; overall results have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

The University of Maryland and The Washington Post first teamed up to present the poll in October 2014. Polls have focused on Maryland elections, national elections, desired priorities for elected officials and topics of interest to voters including immigration, taxes, education and healthcare.

The partnership combines the world-class reporting, polling and public engagement resources of The Post with rigorous academic analysis from the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences’ nationally-renowned Department of Government and Politics. The poll is designed to provide academics, students and members of the public with insight into both key races and the issues that matter to Maryland residents.

In addition to its impact as a public education tool, the poll also represents a unique research opportunity for UMD students. Hanmer and Associate Professor Stella Rouse, director of CAPC, work with students affiliated with the Center on the design of the poll questions and the analysis of its responses.

The poll is directed by Washington Post polling manager Scott Clement, and by UMD alumna Emily Guskin (GVPT ’06), the polling analyst, for The Post, as well as by Hanmer for the University of Maryland.

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