More Americans Trust Government's Handling of Problems

More Americans Trust Government's Handling of Problems

by Lydia Saad

Trust in government's handling of international problems rises to nine-year high

PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans' trust in Washington, D.C., to handle international problems is up sharply compared with this time last year, and is now the highest in Gallup trends since the start of the Iraq war in 2003. Two-thirds of Americans say they have a "great deal" (18%) or "fair amount" (48%) of trust in the federal government when it comes to handling international problems, vs. 57% last September, whereas a third have "not very much" trust or "none at all."

Trend: Trust in Federal Government to Handle International Problems

The finding is from Gallup's Sept. 6-9 annual Governance poll, conducted nearly a year after the United States helped oust and kill Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi, but before the deadly Sept. 11 raid on the U.S. consulate in that country that took the lives of several U.S. diplomatic staff, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens. The same poll, conducted during and after the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C., found Americans more satisfied with the direction of the county and more positive about the Democratic Party.

Trust in the federal government to handle international problems has increased among Democrats/Democratic leaners and Republicans/Republican leaners over the past year, and to a similar extent. It is up 10 percentage points among Democrats, to 80%, and up eight points among Republicans to 52%.

Republicans' trust on this dimension continues to be lower than it was while Republican George W. Bush was president, from 2001 through 2008; however, Democrats' is at a more than decade-long high.

Trend: Trust in Federal Government to Handle International Problems -- by Party ID

Increase in Trust on Domestic Issues Driven by Democrats

Americans in the same poll also express significantly more trust in Washington to handle domestic problems than they have in the last two years. About half of Americans, 51%, now say they have a great deal (12%) or fair amount (39%) of trust in the federal government in Washington when it comes to handling domestic problems, up eight points from September 2011.

Trend: Trust in Federal Government to Handle Domestic Problems

Still, Americans' trust on this dimension remains lower than their trust on international matters and is not much higher than it has been at several points in the past decade, including 51% in 2009 and 52% in 2007. In fact, the 15-point deficit in trust on domestic problems vs. international problems (51% vs. 66%) is the widest Gallup has seen since 1997.

One reason for the divergence is that, while confidence in the government to handle domestic problems rose sharply this year among Democrats -- to 69% from 57% -- it was essentially unchanged among Republicans, now at 33%.

Trend: Trust in Federal Government to Handle Domestic Problems -- by Party ID

Bottom Line

Americans are feeling more confident about the federal government's ability to handle both international and domestic problems than they have in several years.

Trust in government on international problems is particularly high, resulting from increased confidence among Democrats and Republicans alike over the past year. This may reflect the compound effect of the United States' operation against Osama bin Laden in May 2011 and aid to anti-Gadhafi forces in Libya in the fall of 2011, as well as the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq at the end of 2011. Whether Americans' trust will continue at this level amid recent anti-American uprisings in the Mideast remains to be seen, but if it does, it suggests President Barack Obama may benefit from his "commander in chief" role as he asks Americans to give him a second term.

With continued tepid reviews of Washington's ability to handle domestic problems, his greatest liability with voters will likely continue to be the economy.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Sept. 6-9, 2012, with a random sample of 1,017 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

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 and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample includes a minimum quota of 400 cell phone respondents and 600 landline respondents per 1,000 national adults, with additional minimum quotas among landline respondents by region. Landline telephone numbers are chosen at random among listed telephone numbers. Cell phone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. 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, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, adults in the household, and phone status (cell phone only/landline only/both, cell phone mostly, and having an unlisted landline number). Demographic weighting targets are based on the March 2011 Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older non-institutionalized population living in 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.

View methodology, full question results, and trend data.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit

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