Heartland Monitor Poll

Americans Give Up On Washington

A new national poll shows that Americans now think state and local institutions are best equipped to solve the country’s major problems.

The scaffolded US Capitol is seen at sunset on October 28, 2014 in Washington, DC with a compass marker in the walkway looking West. The US Capitol dome will undergo its first comprehensive repairs in more than half a century this autumn, installing a donut-shaped canopy to protect visitors to the historic structure. The two-year, USD 60 million project is aimed at repairing nearly 1,300 cracks that have emerged in the nine-million-pound (4.1-million-kilogram) cast iron dome, according to the Architect of the Capitol (AOC) office. Construction on the dome began in 1855. Work symbolically continued through the US Civil War and the structure was eventually completed in 1866.
National Journal
March 9, 2015, 1:25 p.m.

Mi­chael Hansen, age 45, is not alone in think­ing that na­tion­al polit­ics has be­come “al­most like a slow mo­tion car wreck.” Every week brings an­oth­er seem­ing crisis from Wash­ing­ton D.C.—the con­gres­sion­al show­down over the con­tinu­ation of fund­ing for the Home­land Se­cur­ity De­part­ment was just the latest. It’s enough to turn off or­din­ary Amer­ic­ans from the down-to-the-wire ne­go­ti­ations and the­at­rics.

“After 10 years of pay­ing at­ten­tion to polit­ics, I just prefer state and loc­al gov­ern­ment,” says Hansen, an in­de­pend­ent voter who works in food sales and lives in Idaho, just out­side of Sun Val­ley. “I think loc­al and state politi­cians ac­tu­ally listen more. They have to live with­in the same rules that they cre­ate.”

The most re­cent res­ults of the 22nd Heart­land Mon­it­or poll, sponsored by Alll­state and Na­tion­al Journ­al, bear out Hansen’s as­sess­ment of who is best suited to lead the U.S. Years of fed­er­al grid­lock and dys­func­tion have left the pub­lic fa­vor­ing state and loc­al in­sti­tu­tions over the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment as the places best equipped to of­fer solu­tions to the coun­try’s on­go­ing eco­nom­ic and so­cial chal­lenges.

And fed­er­al gov­ern­ment? Well, it just leaves people want­ing more, ac­cord­ing to the polling data. Of the 1,000 Amer­ic­an adults sur­veyed, just 26 per­cent said that na­tion­al-level in­sti­tu­tions were mak­ing pro­gress, com­pared to the 64 per­cent who favored the state and loc­al levels. This con­clu­sion cuts across the lines of gender, edu­ca­tion, so­cioeco­nom­ics, and even dif­fer­ent re­gions of the coun­try. In short, Amer­ic­ans are fed up with the snip­ing and para­lys­is at the fed­er­al level and in­stead are turn­ing their at­ten­tion to loc­al gov­ern­ments and groups for solu­tions.

“Changes on the na­tion­al level haven’t af­fected me,” ex­plains 22-year-old Hailey Ken­kel, a Demo­crat and gradu­ate stu­dent from Maryville, Mis­souri. “I don’t know how people are sup­posed to make big changes with how hard Con­gress makes it.”

The pref­er­ence for gov­ernance closer to home car­ries across ages and genders. Sixty-sev­en per­cent of men favored state and loc­al in­sti­tu­tions over na­tion­al ones, com­pared to the break­down among wo­men of 61 per­cent for loc­al and state level versus 27 per­cent for na­tion­al. Poll par­ti­cipants who iden­ti­fied as Re­pub­lic­ans ex­pressed some of the least re­gard for lead­er­ship at the na­tion­al level. Just 14 per­cent of Re­pub­lic­ans said the na­tion­al level was march­ing ahead to­ward its goals; Re­pub­lic­ans, who have long ad­voc­ated for a smal­ler foot­print for the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment, over­whelm­ingly favored the activ­ity of state and loc­al in­sti­tu­tions.

But not all poll re­spond­ents dis­liked na­tion­al level in­sti­tu­tions and lead­er­ship in such an ex­treme fash­ion. The young­est gen­er­a­tion, com­bined with the 60- to 64-year-olds, ex­pressed the greatest amount of hope in pro­gress at the na­tion­al level. Thirty-one per­cent of adults ages 18 to 29 favored na­tion­al in­sti­tu­tions over loc­al ones, while 34 per­cent of adults ages 60 to 64 pre­ferred the na­tion­al level.

Demo­crats also viewed the na­tion­al and loc­al di­vide in a less-skewed way, with 44 per­cent of them fa­vor­ing na­tion­al level lead­er­ship and 48 per­cent pre­fer­ring loc­al and state. Afric­an-Amer­ic­ans were the only group to praise pro­gress at the na­tion­al level more than at the state level; 50 per­cent of them pre­ferred na­tion­al level lead­er­ship and in­sti­tu­tions, com­pared to 43 per­cent who pre­ferred state and loc­al.

That’s the stand of 60-year-old Waverly Bod­den, an Afric­an-Amer­ic­an who lives in Fort Laud­er­dale, Fla. Bod­den, a Demo­crat with some col­lege un­der her belt, works as a home health­care aide. She ap­pre­ci­ates the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment, she says, for its large-scale policies such as the Af­ford­able Care Act. “People who have not had health in­sur­ance for so many years have now been able to get it,” she says. She faults some states for the lack of pro­gress across the coun­try—for drag­ging their heels in set­ting up health-care ex­changes as part of the Af­ford­able Care Act and, in Flor­ida, for not tak­ing great­er care of the poor, home­less, or hungry people. “There are lots of people down here not work­ing and beg­ging for food. You see them with a cup beg­ging for money,” she says.

The polling did not just show the lack of faith in na­tion­al in­sti­tu­tions and lead­er­ship; it also shows that people in­creas­ingly feel that the best solu­tions for the coun­try’s prob­lems will come from loc­al com­munit­ies, state gov­ern­ments, and in­sti­tu­tions. Sixty-nine per­cent of re­spond­ents said that state and loc­al in­sti­tu­tions—from gov­ern­ments to busi­nesses to com­munity groups and vo­lun­teers—of­fer the best new ideas be­cause they were closer to the prob­lems, more ad­apt­able, and had a great­er stake in find­ing solu­tions. Just 22 per­cent of re­spond­ents thought the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment and big busi­ness were bet­ter equipped to solve the coun­try’s chal­lenges.

To vary­ing de­grees, that at­ti­tude re­mained con­stant across gender lines, age, race, and party af­fil­i­ation—re­flect­ing re­spond­ents’ strong pref­er­ence for state and loc­al in­sti­tu­tions and solu­tions. “The fed­er­al gov­ern­ment is too big and too slow. I think it needs to be cut down,” says Luke Roberts, a 30-year-old Re­pub­lic­an from Littleton, Colo. “I just think that less is more right now with the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment.”

State Vs Na­tion­al Solu­tions

Over­whelm­ingly, poll re­spond­ents said that state and loc­al gov­ern­ments, non-profits, and in­sti­tu­tions were best equipped to handle the ma­jor­ity of prob­lems that the coun­try faced: everything from mak­ing neigh­bor­hoods more at­tract­ive places to live to im­prov­ing edu­ca­tion, help­ing poor people, and de­vel­op­ing new products and ser­vices to cre­ate jobs. Re­spond­ents even be­lieve that reg­u­la­tion of busi­nesses would fare bet­ter un­der loc­al and state over­sight, ac­cord­ing to the polling data.

The lone arena where re­spond­ents thought that the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment could do a bet­ter job was in im­prov­ing the en­vir­on­ment and find­ing new ways to save en­ergy. Fifty-one per­cent of people sur­veyed thought that na­tion­al in­sti­tu­tions would do a bet­ter job than state and loc­al in­sti­tu­tions.

The people who still held onto the greatest faith in the power of the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment, na­tion­al non-profits, and ma­jor busi­nesses in­cluded Demo­crats; they still be­lieved that na­tion­al-level groups could best solve prob­lems such as im­prov­ing wages; cre­at­ing jobs, reg­u­lat­ing busi­nesses; and pro­tect­ing the en­vir­on­ment. Afric­an-Amer­ic­ans also con­tin­ued to be­lieve in the power of na­tion­al level lead­er­ship in im­prov­ing all policies, ex­cept for mak­ing neigh­bor­hoods more de­sir­able places to live.

Still, for the ma­jor­ity of the Amer­ic­ans sur­veyed, the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment, ma­jor busi­nesses, and na­tion­al non-profits were no longer the most fer­tile places for lead­er­ship and solu­tions. That’s a sur­pris­ing data point to con­sider as Re­pub­lic­ans be­gin their con­trol of Con­gress and as both parties look ahead to the next pres­id­en­tial elec­tion. It shows the ex­tent to which people across demo­graph­ic groups are turn­ing away from the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment, in­clud­ing people like the Hansen, who doesn’t even ad­here to a par­tic­u­lar polit­ic­al party.

“I can’t say wheth­er I’m a lib­er­al or con­ser­vat­ive,” he says. “There’s a lot less con­flict at the state and loc­al level. People are not just toe­ing a hard line or re­fus­ing to work to­geth­er.”

The latest All­state/Na­tion­al Journ­al Heart­land Mon­it­or Poll is the 22nd in a series ex­amin­ing how Amer­ic­ans are ex­per­i­en­cing the chan­ging eco­nomy. This poll, which ex­plored how Amer­ic­ans rate con­di­tions in their com­munit­ies and wheth­er they prefer loc­al or na­tion­al in­sti­tu­tions to take the lead in re­spond­ing to the coun­try’s chal­lenges, sur­veyed 1,000 adults by land­line and cell phones from Feb­ru­ary 18 through 22, 2015. The sur­vey has a mar­gin of er­ror of plus or minus 3.1 per­cent­age points. The sur­vey was su­per­vised by Ed Re­illy and Jeremy Ruch of FTI Con­sult­ing’s Stra­tegic Com­mu­nic­a­tions prac­tice.

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