Growing Gap in Favorable Views of Federal, State Governments
During the 1960s and 1970s, protest was central to American political discourse — against the Vietnam War, for the environment and women’s rights, against the abuse of political power. The Reagan years added social issues to the range of contentious subjects, but large-scale protest fell out of favor in the 1990s.
All that changed with the rise of the Tea Party in the late 2000s, followed by Occupy Wall Street several years later. The two moments not only fall on opposite sides of the political spectrum, their views of government are also diametrically opposed. The Tea Party favors small government, while Occupy Wall Street supports vigorous regulation of the financial industry.
A 2012 report by the Pew Research Center, “Growing Gap in Favorable Views of Federal, State Governments,” compared recent survey data on American government at all levels with past data on citizens’ views. The 2012 survey asked 3,008 adults about their views toward the federal government, as well as their state and local governments.
Key findings include:
- As of 2012, only 33% of Americans have a favorable view of the federal government while 62% hold an unfavorable view. This is the “lowest positive rating in 15 years.” In 2002, 62% had favorable views of the federal government.
- There is a sharp partisan split in terms of current views of the federal government: Just 20% of Republicans hold favorable views (this plummeted from 53% in mid-2008, when President Bush was still in office), while 51% of Democrats hold positive views.
- However, this partisan split was reversed just a few years back: “As recently as 2008, Republicans held a more favorable opinion of the federal government in Washington (53%) than did Democrats (29%).”
- Americans continue to hold very favorable views of local government in contrast to state and federal, with 61% holding a favorable view of their local government as of 2012 and only 31% holding an unfavorable view. In 2002, 67% had a favorable view.
- Ratings of state governments remain relatively positive, with 52% of Americans holding a favorable view of their state government and 42% holding an unfavorable view. But this is still a drop in favorability from 2002, when 62% of Americans held a favorable view of their state government.
- Republicans have the most positive view of state government, with 62% viewing their state government favorably. In contrast, 50% of Democrats and 49% of Independents view their state government favorably.
- As of 2012, 70% of Republicans have a favorable view of their state government in states where both the legislature and governorship is Republican-controlled. By contrast, in states controlled by Democrats, 55% of Democrats hold a favorable view of their state government.
The results of the report show both decreasing favorability of federal government but also a strong partisan influence on citizens’ assessments, most noticeably among Republicans. In a separate survey that asked people to compare state and federal government, individuals rated their state government as more honest, less corrupt, more efficient and better at getting things done than the federal government. One of the biggest problems with the federal government, respondents said, is partisanship: “Three-quarters (75%) say the federal government is too divided along party lines, with just 20% saying the federal government can usually work together to get things done.”
Tags: survey, municipal, political polarization
Read the issue-related New Yorker article titled "The Empty Chamber: Just How Broken Is the Senate?"
- What key insights from the journal article and the Pew survey data should reporters be aware of as they cover issues relating to anti-government sentiment and polarization?
Read the full study titled “Growing Gap in Favorable Views of Federal, State Governments.”
- What are the study's key technical term(s)? Which ones need to be put into language a lay audience can understand?
- Do the study’s authors put the research into context and show how they are advancing the state of knowledge about the subject? If so, what did the previous research indicate?
- What is the study’s research method? If there are statistical results, how did the scholars arrive at them?
- Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example, are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)
- How could the findings be misreported or misinterpreted by a reporter? In other words, what are the difficulties in conveying the data accurately? Give an example of a faulty headline or story lead.
Newswriting and digital reporting assignments
- Write a lead, headline or nut graph based on the study.
- Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
- Compose two Twitter messages of 140 characters or fewer accurately conveying the study’s findings to a general audience. Make sure to use appropriate hashtags.
- Choose several key quotations from the study and show how they would be set up and used in a brief blog post.
- Map out the structure for a 60-second video segment about the study. What combination of study findings and visual aids could be used?
- Find pictures and graphics that might run with a story about the study. If appropriate, also find two related videos to embed in an online posting. Be sure to evaluate the credibility and appropriateness of any materials you would aggregate and repurpose.
Class discussion questions
- What is the study’s most important finding?
- Would members of the public intuitively understand the study’s findings? If not, what would be the most effective way to relate them?
- What kinds of knowledgeable sources you would interview to report the study in context?
- How could the study be “localized” and shown to have community implications?
- How might the study be explained through the stories of representative individuals? What kinds of people might a reporter feature to make such a story about the study come alive?
- What sorts of stories might be generated out of secondary information or ideas discussed in the study?