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Friday, July 15, 2022

Public Opinion and Federalism

 Frank Newport at Gallup:

There is some evidence speaking to Americans' preference for state versus federal control of government. In 2016, Gallup asked Americans, "Which theory of government do you favor: concentration of power in the state government or concentration of power in the federal government?" This was an update of a question included in one of Gallup's earliest surveys in 1936. At that point, in the middle of the Great Depression and President Franklin Roosevelt's massive mobilization of the federal government in the New Deal program, 56% of those interviewed favored the federal government approach. By the time Gallup asked the question again in 1981, in Ronald Reagan's first year in office, the public had flipped, favoring the state power alternative by 56% to 28%. The most recent results from 2016 showed a similar response, with 55% choosing the state government alternative and 37% choosing the federal government.

Political identity is highly related to preferences for state versus federal power. Remarkably, this partisan difference has persisted over the past eight decades. In 1936, 72% of Democrats favored the federal government theory of government, compared with 35% of Republicans. In 2016, 80 years later, 62% of Democrats favored the federal government, compared with 17% of Republicans.

More generally, a good deal of data show that the American public is more confident in their state government than in the federal government. This reflects the truism that Americans are, in general, more positive about government the more local it is. State governments routinely inspire more confidence than the federal government. And local governments inspire more confidence than state governments. As a September 2021 Deloitte Insights review pointed out, "Distant government tends to be distrusted government."

Gallup's most recent Governance poll, conducted in September 2021, showed that 37% of Americans have a great deal or fair amount of confidence in the legislative branch of government, 44% of Americans have confidence in the executive branch and 54% have confidence in the judicial branch. Americans' confidence in their state government is at the 57% level (a great deal or fair amount) and faith in local government is at 66%.

A Pew Research survey conducted April 25-May 1 of this year showed similarly that 32% of Americans have a favorable opinion of the "federal government in Washington," 54% have a favorable opinion of "your state government" and 66% a favorable opinion of "your local government." Last August, as another example, a Gallup survey showed that Americans gave the federal government the lowest positive image rating of any of 25 business and industry sectors tested.

In summary, we have a situation as far as public opinion is concerned in which Americans have for decades been more positive about their state government than the federal government, in which Americans hold the federal government in very low regard, and in which, when asked, Americans appear to tilt toward the idea that states should have more power than the federal government.