Federal Government’s Public Image Takes a Hit

by Joseph Carroll, Gallup Poll Assistant Editor

With recent reports of intelligence failures leading up to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, mushrooming budget deficits, and a sluggish economy, results from Gallup's Work and Education poll* aren't all that surprising: Americans now rate the federal government less positively than they did last August, and are slightly more likely to rate the government negatively than positively. What may be surprising is who has become more negative.

Federal Government Not Highly Regarded

Gallup's Aug. 9-11 survey asked Americans for their overall views of 25 business and industry sectors in the country, including the federal government. The results show that many Americans do not have a positive impression of the federal government, with roughly a third (34%) rating it positively, 39% rating it negatively, and 25% giving a neutral rating. The net score for the federal government (the percentage saying "very" or "somewhat" positive minus the percentage saying "very" or "somewhat" negative) is -5 percentage points.

Nineteen of the 25 business sectors included in the survey scored higher net ratings than the federal government, including the computer industry (with a +52 net score), the restaurant industry (+51), the retail industry (+41), and the travel industry (+41). The federal government, however, did outscore six other business sectors, including the oil and gas industry (which scored the lowest with a net score of -37), the pharmaceutical industry (-17), and the healthcare industry (-17).

Americans' perceptions of the federal government declined between 2003 and 2004. In August 2003, 41% of Americans had a positive image of the federal government, while 35% had a negative view and 23% were neutral.

Through Partisan Eyes

Democrats expressed decidedly negative views of the federal government in both 2003 and 2004, but their ratings have remained essentially unchanged during this period (-21 net score last year and -17 this year). Ratings of the federal government, however, did decrease among Republicans and independents in 2004, but much more so among independents than among Republicans. Among Republicans, the net score dropped from +36 in 2003 to +21 in 2004. The net score among independents plummeted from a +3 last August to a -23 this August.

Bottom Line

Polling finds that the assessments of Democrats, who arguably are most critical of the federal government with a Republican president in the White House, have not become more negative in the last year. The drop in federal government ratings came more from Republicans, who are still more positive than negative in their views, and independents, whose ratings dropped from slightly positive to extremely negative.

*Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,017 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Aug. 9-11, 2004. For results based on the 518 national adults in the Form A half-sample, the maximum margins of sampling error are ±5 percentage points. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

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