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Americans' Image of "Federal Government" Mostly Negative

More than 7 in 10 describe government in negative terms

PRINCETON, NJ -- More than 7 in 10 Americans use a word or phrase that is clearly negative when providing a top-of-mind reaction to the federal government.

A Sept. 20-21 USA Today/Gallup poll asked respondents what they would say "if someone asked you to describe the federal government in one word or phrase." The accompanying chart shows the results in graphic form, with the words or phrases displayed according to how frequently they are mentioned.

Additionally, the complete list of verbatim responses to the question, along with basic demographic information on respondents, is available here.

What Would You Say if Someone Asked You to Describe the Federal Government in One Word or Phrase?

Overall, 72% of responses about the federal government are negative, touching on its inefficiency, size, corruption, and general incompetence, with the most common specific descriptions being "too big," "confused," and "corrupt."

Ten percent of responses are clearly positive, using words such as "good," while the remaining 18% are neutral or mixed.

The generally negative top-of-mind images of the federal government are consistent with the poor ratings the government receives in Gallup's annual update on the images of business and industry sectors. In the most recent update, from August, 58% rated the federal government negatively and 26% positively.

Survey Methods

Results for this USA Today/Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Sept. 20-21, 2010, on the Gallup Daily tracking survey, with a random sample of 981 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, selected using random-digit-dial sampling.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones (for respondents with a landline telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell phone-only). Each sample includes a minimum quota of 150 cell phone-only respondents and 850 landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents for gender within region. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted by gender, age, race, education, region, and phone lines. Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2009 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in continental U.S. telephone households. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting and sample design.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit

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