Americans Don’t Trust Government but Don’t Want to Cut Programs, Either

Americans Don’t Trust Government but Don’t Want to Cut Programs, Either


According to a new report from the Pew Research Center, Americans show little interest in reducing spending on specific government programs, despite their general lack of trust in the federal government.

“When Americans are asked to make up the budget for the federal government, they have little appetite for austerity measures,” the report says. “Asked about 13 different government program areas, from veterans benefits to foreign aid, no more than about a quarter favor reducing spending in any specific area.”

Some programs earn considerable support, with a solid majority of the 1,503 adults surveyed last month saying the U.S. should spend more on education, veterans benefits and infrastructure (see the chart below). Helping the unemployed and needy foreigners are less popular, but even so, less than a third of respondents said the government should reduce spending on any particular program.  

Pulling back a bit, about half (47%) of Americans say they support the general idea of a smaller government offering fewer services, even if they’re unenthusiastic about cutting specific programs. At the same time, about half (also 47%) say they support the idea of a bigger government offering more services. These views have been relatively stable over the last few years, Pew said, although the smaller government view had considerably more support in the 1990s. Partisan differences are pronounced on this question, with 74% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents saying they want a smaller government and 67% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents saying they prefer a bigger government.

One thing just about all Americans can agree upon, though, is that they don’t generally trust the federal government. Just 17% of survey respondents said they believe the government will do the right thing all or most of the time. (The peak reading for that question was in the early 1960s, when 77 percent said they trusted the federal government to do the right thing.)

So what’s it all add up to? The Washington Post’s Catherine Rampell of summed up the Pew report this way in a tweet: “Americans love government spending and hate taxes.”