We The People Elect 'Em, But Don't Trust 'Em

April 16, 2012

WE THE PEOPLE begins the preamble to the US Constitution, the document that ensures, among other things, our right to vote in free, open elections.

And if We The People have demonstrated anything in the current presidential primaries, it is that we have unprecedented hostility toward all of the candidates. Voter turnout has been exceptionally low. Mitt Romney, and now-departed Rick Santorum, had more success in dividing the Republican Party than leading it. The sitting President has earned negative approval ratings for years. Ron Paul, the alternative candidate, barely registers on the tally boards. We The People are visibly unhappy with the choices offered to us.

And the best articulation of this disconnect came from yet another candidate:

"We are in deep trouble as a people. This transcends Republicans, it transcends Democrats, it transcends Obama's personality, it transcends the Republican candidates. Your generation is inheriting a dysfunctional country which cannot communicate with itself and whose political leadership has no ideas to get us back on track."

I don't agree with much of what Newt Gingrich has to say, and, based on the results of the primaries to date, I am surely not alone. The former House Speaker can't even pretend to expect to be our President if he can't outpoll two incredibly flawed guys who have turned off as many voters as they energized. But it is hard to disagree with his view of our political dysfunctionality.

We The People simply do not trust our elected leaders. We vote for 'em, but we don't trust 'em. Both the President, and Congress, are suffering from the lowest approval ratings in our nation's history.

In fact, the results of a Rasmussen Reports poll released on April 9 shows that most American voters trust themselves on matters of the economy more than Obama or Romney! Just 29 percent of likely We The People voters believe that the President can handle the economic recovery better than they themselves can. Only 18 percent said the same of Romney. And this recent lack of confidence in our government is nothing new.

Back in March, 2010, a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center showed that only about one in five registered voters believed they could trust the government in Washington to do the right thing "just about always", or most of the time, while an overwhelming majority said that they would do the right thing only some of the time, or never. The survey attributed that negative view to "a perfect storm of conditions associated with distrust of government - a dismal economy, an unhappy public, bitter partisan based backlash, and epic discontent with Congress and elected officials".

Republican respondents articulated the highest overall level of distrust (86 percent), followed by independents (70 percent) and Democrats (64 percent). At that time, the trust level in the Obama administration was 22 percent, the lowest of any President since such data was tracked. Under the GW Bush administration it had been 37 percent. The average trust scores during the tenures of prior administrations were 29 percent for Bill Clinton, 36 percent for George H.W. Bush, 42 percent for Ronald Reagan, 29 percent for Jimmy Carter, 40 percent for Nixon/Ford and 68 percent for Kennedy/Johnson.

All of those presidents except GW Bush won election with a majority of We The People voters (Bush actually lost the popular vote to John Kerry). But only Kennedy/Johnson ended up trusted by a majority. None of the others even came close, yet Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, and GW all won second terms.

We The People elect - even re-elect - 'em, but we don't trust 'em.

A majority of We The People have said in each Pew survey back to 1997 that we were frustrated with government (except for the poll taken shortly after 9/11). The percentage of us who described ourselves as "angry" rose from 12 percent in 1997 to 21 percent in 2010, while those who said that they were basically content fell from a high of 33 percent in 2000 to 19 percent by 2010.

Pew's prediction, based on the March, 2010 poll, was that the dissatisfaction with government was more likely to create turnout among Republicans and independents than Democrats in the midterm elections. They were right on. Obama himself acknowledged that his party took a "shellacking", when Republicans made the health care law, and the Democrats who rammed it through Congress, their Issue Number One, and won enough seats to control the House.

Pew also projected that the Tea Party movement was "potentially a cause for worry for the Republicans". "Worry" turned out to be an understatement. The GOP is no longer controlled by the old guard in Washington, and they apparently never saw it coming. Grass roots movements are flexing their ultra-conservative muscles, and, until last week, prevented the party from uniting behind Romney, the only candidate with a shot at toppling Obama. If ever there was a house divided, it is the Republicans today. Their bickering, and short-sighted name-calling, have handed a weakened and vulnerable President an advantage he never could have gained for himself.

And unhappiness with government extends to both major political parties. Pew concluded "Large majorities across partisan lines see elected officials as not careful with the government's money, influenced by special interest money, overly concerned about their own careers, unwilling to compromise and out of touch with regular Americans." Just 43 percent of We The People said they wanted to see their current member of Congress re-elected in 2010, the lowest number since the 1994 midterms. In every congressional election since 1994, a majority favored re-election of their lawmaker, except in an early October 1994 survey, when the number was 49 percent.

By September, 2011, the situation was even worse. A poll by the Associated Press and the National Constitution Center showed "extremely high levels of distrust in most of the political, economic, and cultural institutions in America". Just eight percent of respondents said they were confident in the people running Congress, 10 percent in the federal government. Majorities of Republicans and Democrats lacked confidence in congressional leaders, with politically crucial independents showing the sharpest increase in distrust of Congress over that past year - up from 49 percent in 2010 to 62 percent.

And We The People had elected every single one of those senators and representatives!!!

A month later, a New York Times/CBS News poll found "Americans' distrust of government at its highest level ever". An incredible 89 percent of We The People said they distrusted government to do the right thing, 74 percent said the country is on the wrong track, and 84 percent disapproved of Congress, Democrats and Republicans alike. Obama's disapproval rating was 46 percent, despite the fact that he had just announced that American troops would come home from Iraq by the end of the year.

Congressional Republicans were viewed even worse than the President, with 71 percent of We The People saying the party does not have a clear plan for creating jobs. Only about a quarter of the public said that lowering taxes on large corporations or repealing the entire national health care law was a good idea. But half of the public favored reducing or repealing regulations on businesses in the United States. The disapproval toward Congress had risen 22 percentage points since January 1, when Republicans took control of the House.

We The People are a long way from forming "a more perfect union".