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  Daily Briefing  
August 8, 2003

Public finds government inefficient, study shows

By Amelia Gruber

Americans would choose their government over any other in the world, but a majority “believe Washington is too big, inefficient and wasteful,” according to a study released Aug. 6 by a conservative think tank.

Many citizens also mistrust the government, according to statistics compiled by Karlyn Bowman, a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. Bowman gathered her statistics from a variety of national opinion polls, including ones conducted by the Gallup Organization, universities and such news media outlets as The New York Times.

In a July poll, only 32 percent of respondents said they trusted “Washington to do what's right.” In a 1958 poll 57 percent expressed trust in the government.

If given a choice, 48 percent of Americans would prefer a smaller government offering fewer services over a larger government with more services, polls conducted in July showed. About 40 percent favored bigger government and the remainder had no opinion. As of fall 2002, the most recent year for which statistics were presented, a majority (55 percent) believed the government should leave more work to businesses and individuals.

Historical polls presented in the study showed that from 1982 to 1995, more than two- thirds of citizens thought it would be a “bad idea” to privatize the military, police or fire departments. A narrower majority was against privatizing the Postal Service, schools and prisons. But more than half of respondents saw privatizing garbage disposal as a “good idea.”

In 2002, the average citizen was under the impression that the government wastes 47 cents out of every taxpayer dollar, and in fall 2001, a slim majority said agencies waste “a lot” of tax money, as opposed to “some” or “not very much.”

But in a more optimistic vein, the AEI study points out that in a 2000 poll, 89 percent of respondents agreed with the statement: “Whatever its faults, the United States still has the best system of government in the world.” And in October 2001, most Americans felt government agencies listened to their concerns. Specifically, 57 percent of poll respondents said they disagreed with the statement: “Public officials don't care what people like me think.”

Attitudes toward the government also grew more upbeat after the Sept. 11 attacks, the study found. For instance, in May 2000, 30 percent of Americans felt the government had a negative impact on most people's lives, as opposed to no impact, or a positive impact. By November 2001, this percentage had dropped to 15 percent. The percentage of people who said the government had a positive impact grew from 37 percent to 55 percent over the same time frame.

Click here to view the report.

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  Attitudes Toward the Federal Government

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