The Washington Post
September 29, 2001
“”by Dana Milbank and Richard Morin
“And, for the first time in three decades, a majority of Americans said they trust the federal government to do the right thing – a sharp but perhaps temporary reversal in the way citizens view their political institutions. Nearly two in three respondents said they trust the government in Washington to do the right thing either ‘just about always’ or ‘most of the time,’ the poll found. That is more than double the percentage who expressed such confidence in a Post-ABC News survey in April 2000, and more than three times the proportion who said they trusted the federal government at the low point in 1994.”
“Some see hope for a lasting change in public attitudes. ‘I think there is the potential that Sept. 11 will turn out to be a turning point for civic America,’ said Harvard political scientist Robert Putnam, whose book ‘Bowling Alone’ last year documented the decline in civic engagement and trust. ‘It’s a horrible tragedy, but there could be some good coming from it if it causes us to become . . . more aware of the obligations we have to other people and more open-minded about the role of government.'”
Robyn Webb, 26, a high school math teacher who lives in Mount Laurel, N.J.:
“I have a renewed respect for the federal government, absolutely. People see that the government is one of the only avenues we have to get some things done. It puts renewed hope about the government and their capabilities to do things.”
From the poll, conducted September 25-27:
16. How much of the time do you trust the government in Washington to do what is right? Would you say just about always, most of the time, or only some of the time?
13% – Just about always
51% – Most
35% – Only some
01% – None
Comment: The Washington Post has listed the responses over the years to this inquiry. The current responses supporting trust in the government are a very dramatic turnaround from prior polls. In fact, the last time that there was this level of support was 1966, the year Medicare was initiated. Although this poll was primarily directed toward our military response, the one medical question asked suggests that this trust may be very real. Three-fourths of respondents opposed postponing action on prescription drugs for seniors.
It may be that tragic, shocking events evoke introspection and values clarification. Clearly, we do understand again what really is important. We recognize our own personal needs as we recognize our needs as a community. We place values over substance. The lines separating the private element from government blur when we look at our values. We see a need not only for ourselves but for all of us to have adequate food, shelter, education, health care, and the enjoyment of our varied arts. At times like this we see that the private sector alone has not been able to assure that these fundamental needs will be there for all of us. Perhaps the government, our government, does have a role in assuring that the private sector ensures, not equality, but equity in meeting these needs. Equity is not a construct of the marketplace, but rather it is a construct of a society joining together as a government. In health care, the marketplace can excel at delivering health care, but the government is needed to inject equity. Universal health insurance is possible only with government action. Shouldn’t we take a serious look at that, when trust in our government is at a 35 year high?