Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Democrats’ Dilemma: Distrust of Government

The progressives of the Democratic Party have set a difficult task for themselves. The world is a complex and ever changing place. Some of these changes demand a response. Deciding what the appropriate plan of action should be, and how the various priorities should be set, is extremely complicated, and it will be almost impossible to get unanimity even within the Democratic Party, let alone convince others. This is a dilemma for the Democrats that we discussed in Liberals vs. Conservatives: Sixty Pages vs. One Page.

There is another dilemma with which the Democrats must contend. For a party that believes government can be a tool to enrich the lives of its citizens, it is a severe and unrelenting problem.

Bill Bishop, in his book The Big Sort, indicates that around 1965 extreme changes took place in how people viewed themselves, and in how they viewed institutions. While the 1960s were indeed turbulent times likely to shake ones faith in just about anything, Bishop points out that all developed countries went through essentially the same transition, although not at exactly the same time.

"Everywhere, it seemed, Americans were abandoning traditional institutions. Polling firms soon discovered that underlying this social disruption was a concomitant decline in trust: 1965 was the year that Americans lost their faith."

Bishop assigns this change to the transition to a "post-materialist" point of view. When people no longer felt threatened by the lack of the fundamental requirements of food, clothing, and shelter, they began to focus on more individualized needs. What they expected from their government, from their religion, and from other institutions changed. This transformation is an interesting phenomenon in itself, but we will restrict ourselves here to attitudes toward government.

For whatever reason, when asked the question, "How much of the time do you trust the government in Washington?" Democrats, Republicans, and Independents all began to exhibit lower levels of trust. The Pew Research Center tallied these polling results here.

The drop in trust was large and it has never recovered. The next chart illustrates how this change occurred across the political spectrum.

It is interesting to observe the behavior of political partisans as a president from their party takes office. Both parties are more satisfied when one of their own is in power, but the "small government" Republicans are particularly thrilled to have a Republican president.

When Democrats are in power, they not only face the task of addressing complex problems and coming up with what are often painful solutions, but they must somehow make progress in an environment where even their own partisans seem to have little faith that government can succeed.

That is indeed a dilemma.

Perhaps this background provides an explanation: even when a benefit such as a better healthcare system is provided, the initial response is not so much one of rejection, but of distrust. And distrust will take time to overcome.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Lets Talk Books And Politics - Blogged