August 11, 2009

Budget Woes Take Toll on Views of State Governments

Overview

With the economy wreaking havoc on state budgets, the favorability ratings of state governments have declined from a year ago. Overall, 50% of the public now holds a favorable opinion of their state government, down from 59% in April 2008. The falloff in positive views has been greater in states with large and moderate budget shortfalls than in states with smaller budget gaps.

As positive ratings of state governments have declined, people’s ratings of their local governments have remained relatively stable. By nearly a two-to-one margin, Americans express a favorable opinion of their local governments (60% favorable, 32% unfavorable), which is largely unchanged from April 2008 (63% favorable).

The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted July 22-26, 2009 finds that favorability ratings of the federal government have rebounded somewhat since last year. Currently, 50% have an unfavorable opinion of the federal government while 42% express a favorable view. By comparison, in April 2008 views of the federal government were the lowest they have been in a decade (58% unfavorable, 37% favorable).

Most states are struggling during the recession and nearly all are facing revenue shortfalls. The balance of opinion regarding state governments has turned negative in states with the largest budget gaps – the size of the shortfall relative to the state’s overall budget.1 In the 12 states facing the largest budget gaps, 58% now have an unfavorable view of their state governments while only 38% have a favorable view. In April 2008, opinion was evenly divided in these states (48% favorable, 47% unfavorable).

But the change in opinion is not limited to the states with the biggest budget problems; people in 19 states with more modest budget gaps also are expressing more negative views of their state governments. Currently, a slim majority (52%) in these states has a favorable view while 40% have an unfavorable view. In April 2008, favorable views outnumbered unfavorable ones by a wide margin (64% vs. 35%). By contrast, opinion has remained more stable in the states with the smallest budget gaps. Six-in-ten have a favorable view of their state government while only a third has an unfavorable view.

Partisan Shift in Views of Federal Government

With the change in presidential administrations, partisan views of the federal government have shifted dramatically. Currently, 61% of Democrats have a favorable opinion of the federal government, up from 29% in April 2008. By comparison, favorable views among Republicans have declined from 53% to 24% over the same period. A majority of independents (58%) express negative opinions, relatively unchanged from the spring of last year.

There continues to be much less of a partisan gap in favorability ratings of state and local governments. A majority of Republicans (57%) have a favorable opinion of their state governments, compared with 49% of Democrats and 48% of independents. When asked about their local governments, majorities across partisan lines continue to have favorable opinions.

  1. States were broken into three groups by the size of the budget gap for fiscal year 2010 based on data from National Conference of State Legislatures and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The group with the highest gaps, where shortfall is 21-35% of their state’s budget, includes CA, NY, NV, AK, AZ, FL, VT, HI, NJ, CT, WA and IL. The middle group (with shortfalls of 12-20.9%) includes NC, WI, LA, ID, RI, CO, ME, OR, KS, AL, MN, SC, VA, PA, UT, DE, GA, MI, and MD. The group with the smallest gaps (shortfall of 11.9% or less) includes the remaining states. Respondents in the District of Columbia were excluded from the analysis.