Connecting state and local government leaders
At least they like their state leaders more than the feds, a new poll finds.
When asked in a new poll to name areas in which their state government is doing a good job, single-digit percentages of Americans named issues such as infrastructure, pandemic response and the economy.
But more than half of respondents—55%—couldn’t name a single area in which they thought their state government was performing well. Or they simply refused to answer the question. And 4% offered the opinion that their state does a bad job with everything.
The survey is one of many the Pew Research Center has conducted over the years on Americans’ views of government at all levels. For this edition, Pew surveyed 5,074 U.S. adults in April and May.
Respondents were somewhat more specific when it comes to what their state is doing badly than in assessing what it does well. Nearly half listed a specific issue of perceived poor performance, such as poverty, education and crime. A little more than 5% offered the general observation that partisanship, political gridlock and similar factors reflected poorly on state governments. About 40% of respondents didn’t offer an opinion of areas in which their state government was doing a poor job.
A handful of respondents indicated that not all state officials were bad. “Some in state government do care about citizens and do their best to benefit us, such as education, health care, etc.,” said one woman in her 70s.
Better Than the Feds
State officials can take comfort in the knowledge that at least they're seen in a better light than politicians at the national level. While 54% of those surveyed expressed a favorable opinion about their state government, less than a third said the same thing about the federal government. Local government, as has been the case for years, was viewed the most favorably, at 66%. Fewer than one in 10 Americans say the federal government cares about the needs of ordinary people and is careful with taxpayer money.
The change in party control of the federal government in 2020 brought the usual shift in perceptions of government along political lines. Nearly half of Democrats now have a positive view of the federal government, up from barely a quarter in 2019. Conversely, only 13% of Republicans have a favorable view of the feds, down from more than 40% in 2019.
Over the same time period, positive assessments of state governments dropped by 5 percentage points. “Both Republicans and Democrats tend to hold more favorable views of their state government if they live in a state where their party is currently in control,” Pew researchers concluded.
The poll showed that Americans have ambivalent views of the relationship between the federal government and the states. Just over a third of respondents said they were extremely or very concerned that the national government is doing too much on issues better left to states. But the exact same percentage—34%—had the nearly opposite opinion that state governments aren’t willing enough to work with the federal government.
In another example of ambivalence, Pew researchers noted that “half of Americans—and similar shares of both Republicans (49%) and Democrats (50%)—express at least some concern both that states are not willing to work with the federal government and that the federal government is doing too much on issues better left to state governments.”