In 1964, 77% of Americans said they believe the federal government does the right thing for the most part, but that proved to be a high-water mark for trust in government and the number has fallen steadily since then.
The latest data from Pew Research show that just 20% of Americans now trust the federal government to “do what is right just about always/most of the time,” demonstrating a deep skepticism about government that has persisted for decades.
The numbers over time are driven in part by partisan factors, with Republicans and Democrats expressing more trust in government when their party controls the executive branch (see the chart below). But the long-term trend is downward, and even now, with President Biden in the White House, just 29% of Democrats say they trust the government most of the time — and just 9% of Republicans agree. Just 6% of Americans say the phrase “careful with taxpayer money” describes the federal government extremely or very well and only 21% say it describes the government somewhat well.
On some measures, there is more partisan agreement, but the results are no more encouraging. Overall, 65% of poll respondents said they think politicians are mostly out for themselves. For Republicans, that number is 66%, while for Democrats it’s 63%.
At the same time, though, Americans say they think government has an important role to play in society — and could be doing more. For example, a majority of respondents (69%) say the government is doing too little to help middle-income people, and about the same number (66%) say the same about help for low-income people. On the other hand, most (61%) think high-income people receive too much help.
Even larger majorities see a role for government in a variety of areas, including keeping the county safe from terrorism (90%), managing immigration (85%), ensuring safe food and medicine (82%), responding to natural disasters (80%) and strengthening the economy (78%).