Survey: As State Budgets Improve, So Does Trust in Government

  • September 27, 2012
  • By Jim Malewitz

In states we trust? More than we have in recent years, at least. 

That's according to Gallup's annual governance survey, whose results were released on Wednesday (September 26). The survey, conducted in early September, estimates that 65 percent of Americans have expressed a “great deal” or “fair amount” of trust in their state governments, a level not seen since the days before the financial crisis.

The trust level is up from 57 percent in 2011 and a record low of 51 percent in 2009. The growing confidence is due largely to the improving economy and better budget outlooks in states, according to Gallup.

“That has obvious benefits to the working of the political system more generally, as well as possibly to current officeholders who are seeking re-election,” the study says.  

As Stateline has reported, 29 states expect to end the year with small budget surpluses as tax collections rise. But optimism has been tempered by still high rates of unemployment and Congress' threats to cut state funding. 

Trust in state government this year is on par with levels before the recession, the survey found, corresponding with increased satisfaction with the overall direction of the country.

Southerners are most at ease with their state governments, with 71 percent expressing a great deal or fair amount of trust. Just 57 percent of Westerners, the lowest level in any region, expressed such feelings, continuing recent trends. Meanwhile, trust among Midwesterners saw the greatest leap over the past year, rising to 65 percent from 48 percent.

Americans tend to trust state governments more than they do the federal government, according to the study.  That was the case this year and throughout the survey's four-decade history.  Though about 67 percent this year said they trust the federal judiciary system, only 57 percent of those surveyed expressed trust for the executive branch, and just 34 percent said the same about Congress.

Local governments, however, have maintained greater levels of trust than both state and federal ranks. This year, 74 percent of those surveyed said they trust local governments a great deal or fair amount.

These trends can likely be chalked up to the proximity of local officials, Gallup says.

“It may also reflect the obviously partisan nature of the federal government, whereas state governments nationwide are divided between Republican and Democratic control, and many local governments are nonpartisan in nature.”

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