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Hello, Neighbor: New Pew Poll Shows Americans Like Local Government Best

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[Image courtesy of David Litschel Photography]

A new poll released recently by the Pew Research Center finds that even as Americans overall are losing faith in the federal government and remain somewhat divided on state government, local governments continue to enjoy significant satisfaction. From the report:

[In] the latest survey by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, conducted April 4-15, 2012 among 1,514 adults nationwide, the favorable rating for the federal government has fallen to just 33%; nearly twice as many (62%) have an unfavorable view.

By contrast, ratings of state governments remain in positive territory, with 52% offering a favorable and 42% an unfavorable opinion of their state government. And local governments are viewed even more positively. By roughly two-to-one (61% to 31%) most Americans offer a favorable assessment of their local government. [emphasis added]

Most striking - at least to me - was the fact that current partisan division about the merits of federal vs. state governments appear not to affect satisfaction with local government.Even as Republicans and Democrats differ sharply on satisfaction with federal (20% vs 51%) and state (62% and 50%) government, they agree that they like their local governments (65% vs. 66%). Even independents - who otherwise take a dim view of most government (27% federal, 49% state) are on balance favorable to local government (56%).

What might these numbers mean for election administration?

The bad news is that the sharp partisan divisions on federal vs. state government suggest that we are in for ongoing warfare over the relative authority of those two levels of government - evidenced by the continued battle between states and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) about enforcement of the Voting Rights Act against measures (like voter ID) perceived as potentially disenfranchising voters.

The good news is that notwithstanding the fury over federalism's impact on election policy in Washington, DC and state capitals, Americans are likely willing to accept continuation of the nation's traditionally decentralized system of election administration - in which local governments have a primary role. That role can be messy and fraught with its own controversies, but Pew's poll numbers suggest that Americans are willing to live with that because they feel like local government is close enough to them that those drama tend to play out - and get resolved - right in their backyards.

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