April 15, 2013

State Governments Viewed Favorably as Federal Rating Hits New Low

Overview

Even as public views of the federal government in Washington have fallen to another new low, the public continues to see their state and local governments in a favorable light. Overall, 4-15-13 #163% say they have a favorable opinion of their local government, virtually unchanged over recent years. And 57% express a favorable view of their state government – a five-point uptick from last year. By contrast, just 28% rate the federal government in Washington favorably. That is down five points from a year ago and the lowest percentage ever in a Pew Research Center survey.

The percentage of Democrats expressing a favorable opinion of the federal government has declined 10 points in the past year, from 51% to 41%. For the first time since Barack Obama became president, more Democrats say they have an unfavorable view of the federal government in Washington than a favorable view (51% unfavorable vs. 41% favorable). Favorable opinions of the federal government among Republicans, already quite low in 2012 (20% favorable), have fallen even further, to 13% currently.

The national survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted March 13-17 among 1,501 adults, finds positive ratings across party lines for state and local governments overall. But the partisan makeup of the state government matters: Republicans give more positive ratings to GOP-led state governments, while Democrats rate Democratic-led state governments more highly.

Notably, politically divided state governments get positive ratings from members of both parties. In the 13 states with divided governments – those in which the governor and a majority of state legislators are from different parties – majorities of both Republicans and Democrats express favorable opinions of their state governments.

A sizable majority of Americans (69%) say that their state is currently facing budget problems. However, assessments of state budgets were even more negative two years ago; in February 2011, 81% said their state was encountering budget problems. And while just 30% say that economic conditions in their state are excellent or good, that is nearly double the percentage expressing a positive view of the national economy (16% excellent or good).

Partisan Views of Government

Currently, 41% of Democrats say they have a favorable opinion of the federal government, compared with 27% of independents and just 13% of Republicans. By contrast, state and local 4-15-13 #2governments are viewed favorably across-the-board.

Nearly identical percentages of Democrats (56%), Republicans (57%) and independents (59%) have a favorable opinion of their state’s government. Similarly, local governments receive positive ratings from 67% of Democrats, 63% of Republicans and 60% of independents.

While there is partisan agreement in overall ratings of state governments, these opinions differ markedly depending on which party controls the government.

4-15-13 #3Fully 71% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents who live in Republican-led states (those with a GOP governor and state legislature) have a favorable opinion of their state government. But just 30% of Republicans living in Democratic-led states view their state governments favorably.

Democrats and Democratic leaners in Democratic-led states express positive views of their state governments (64% favorable). But unlike Republicans, Democrats do not have unfavorable opinions of state governments led by the opposing party. Among Democrats living in Republican-led states, as many have a favorable (50%) as unfavorable (46%) opinion of their state government.

Politically divided state governments receive about the same ratings from Democrats and Democratic leaners (64% favorable) as from Republicans and Republican leaners (58% favorable).

Views of State Governors

4-15-13 #4Overall, state governors received a positive rating from the public: 55% rate their state’s governor favorably, compared with 30% who hold an unfavorable view. Views of state governors in states with a Republican officeholder (55% favorable) are nearly identical to views in states with Democratic governors (56%).

Unlike views of state governments, neither Republicans nor Democrats offer highly negative ratings of their governor, even in cases where the opposing party holds office.

Overall, 43% of Republicans and Republican leaners in states with a Democratic governor rate their state governor favorably, while 48% have an unfavorable view. Opinions among Democrats and leaners in states with an opposing party governor also are mixed: 43% of Democrats in states with a Republican governor express a favorable view of their state governor, 44% an unfavorable one.

Both Republicans and Democrats offer a highly favorable view of their governor in states where their own party is in control (73% of Republicans and Republican leaners, 68% of Democrats and Democratic leaners).

Modest Improvement in Views of State Budgets

4-15-13 #5Nearly seven-in-ten Americans (69%) say their state is experiencing budget problems, down from 81% two years ago. The percentage saying their state does not face budget problems has nearly doubled, from 12% to 21%, during this period.

The percentage saying their state’s budget problems are very serious also has dipped, from 36% in February 2011 to 31% currently.

State economic ratings also have shown modest improvement. Three-in-ten (30%) say economic conditions in their state are excellent (3%) or good (27%), up from 23% two years ago.

Ratings of state economic conditions are more positive than national economic ratings. Just 16% describe national economic conditions 4-15-13 #6as excellent or good; this compares with 30% who describe the economy of the state they live in as excellent or good in the current survey.

Respondents in states with a Republican governor offer slightly better economic ratings than those living in states with a Democratic governor. About a third (34%) of those in states with a GOP governor describe economic conditions as excellent or good, compared with 24% of those in states with Democratic governors. Similarly, fewer in Republican-governed states say their state is currently experiencing budget problems (66%) than those in Democratic-governed states (73%).

Federal Government’s Declining Favorability

4-15-13 #7Favorable ratings for the federal government rose dramatically after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, but have declined substantially since then. In November 2001, 82% had a favorable opinion of the government and in December 2002, 73% viewed the federal government favorably.

Positive opinions of the government declined through the remainder of George W. Bush’s presidency and have continued to fall during the Obama administration. Currently, 28% have a favorable impression of the federal government while 65% have an unfavorable view.

Partisan views of the federal government have shifted depending on which party controls the White House. Currently, Democrats have a more favorable impression of the federal government than do Republicans; during the Bush administration, Republicans expressed more favorable opinions.

However, there has been a steep decline in the share of Democrats expressing a favorable opinion of the federal government since Obama took office, from 61% in July 2009 to 41% currently. Favorable opinions also have fallen among Republicans over this period, from 24% to 13% — the lowest ever favorable rating among members of either party.

Appendix: Party of Governors and State Legislatures

States with Republican governors:

AL, AK, AZ, FL, GA, ID, IN, IA, KS, LA, ME, MI, MS, NE, NV, NJ, NM, NC, ND, OH, OK, PA, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VA, WI, WY

States with Democratic governors:
AR, CA, CO, CT, DE, HI, IL, KY, MD, MA, MN, MO, MT, NH, NY, OR, VT, WA, WV

Republican governors and Republican majorities in both state House and Senate:
AL, AK, AZ, FL, GA, ID, IN, KS, LA, MI, MS, NC, ND, OH, OK, PA, SC, SD, TN, TX, UT, VA, WI, WY

Democratic governors and Democratic majorities in both state House and Senate:
CA, CO, CT, DE, HI, IL, MD, MA, MN, OR, VT, WA, WV

Mixed party control of governorship, state House and state Senate:
AR, IA, KY, ME, MO, MT, NE, NV, NH, NJ, NM, NY, RI

Sources: National Conference of State Legislatures, National Governors Association.

Cite this publication: “State Governments Viewed Favorably as Federal Rating Hits New Low.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (April 15, 2013) http://www.people-press.org/2013/04/15/state-govermnents-viewed-favorably-as-federal-rating-hits-new-low/, accessed on July 23, 2014.