PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans' trust in their state and local governments has increased this year, with 74% expressing a great deal or fair amount of trust in local government and 65% in state government. Trust in state government has now essentially returned to levels seen before the financial crisis, after falling to as low as 51% in 2009.
The results are based on Gallup's annual Governance survey, conducted Sept. 6-9. Americans' trust in the federal government's ability to handle international and domestic issues and their trust in the three branches of the federal government are all up at least marginally this year.
Americans typically trust local government more than state government, but a majority have expressed trust in each every time Gallup has measured trust. The public's trust in local government has been more stable over time, and thus appears to be affected less by state or national political and economic factors than trust in state government is.
State government trust dipped to 53% in 2003 amid the California recall of Gov. Gray Davis, largely due to the influence of Californians' trust on the national numbers. Trust quickly rebounded to 67% in 2004, then held steady at that level through 2008. Then the 2008-2009 financial crisis caused state governments to face financial hardships of their own, with many struggling to pay their obligations, and trust sank to 51% in 2009.
But with the economy improving somewhat and states apparently on better financial footing after making cutbacks in recent years, trust in state government has improved, a total of 14 percentage points since 2009.
Western Residents Less Trusting Than Other Regions of Their State Government
Trust in state government among Western residents has improved significantly this year, but it continues to lag behind that of residents in other U.S. regions. Trust has also increased substantially in the Midwest this year. Trust remains a bit higher among Southern residents.
Trust in local government varies little by region -- 76% in the East, South, and Midwest, and 70% in the West say they trust their local government.
Republicans More Trusting of State Government
Partisan groups' trust in state government has followed a similar path in recent years, with all party groups dipping in 2009 and showing improvement since. Currently, Republicans express more trust than Democrats in state government, 71% to 61%, which could reflect that there are more Republican governors than Democratic ones. In 2008, when Democrats were slightly more trusting than Republicans in state government, there were more Democratic than Republican governors.
There are only minor party differences in trust in local government, with 78% of Republicans, 71% of independents, and 76% of Democrats saying they trust their local governments.
Americans are in a better mood about conditions in the U.S. now than at any time during the last three years. And while their level of satisfaction and confidence in the economy remain below historical norms, their trust in state and local government is as high as it has been in the last decade.
Americans typically have expressed greater trust in state and local governments than in the federal government. That may be because the federal government is more remote to citizens than their state and local governments. It may also reflect the obviously partisan nature of the federal government, whereas state governments nationwide are divided between Republican and Democratic control, and many local governments are nonpartisan in nature.
Nevertheless, Americans' confidence in the government at all levels is on the upswing, after trust suffered through record lows during the last few years. That has obvious benefits to the working of the political system more generally, as well as possibly to current officeholders who are seeking re-election.
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.
For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.