‘Government is the Problem’

‘Government is the Problem’

I stumbled across some interesting polling data over the weekend. And, no, it wasn’t about the rise and fall of any presidential candidate.

It was a report by Gallup on public opinion about the most important problem facing this country. Each month, Gallup asks roughly 1,000 respondents to answer the question in their own words, then groups the responses into categories.

The number one problem for 2015, earning an average of 16% of the responses each month?


The next highest in order are: the economy (13%), unemployment (8%) and immigration (8%).

Gallup goes on to explain that “government includes dissatisfaction with President Obama, Congress, other government leaders, ethics of politicians and political conflict.” This may go some length toward explaining “government” as the number one problem.

Fed up with what you perceive as President Obama’s radical agenda and his flouting of the Constitution? Government is the problem. Fed up with what you perceive as the obstructionist, partisan machinations of the Republicans in Congress (in the House, the Senate, or both)? Government is the problem.

Irritated by what you see as the games politicians of all stripes at all levels play with the English language, the truth, our tax dollars and the future of our society? Government is the problem.

Tired of reading about the ethical lapses of your local officials? Exasperated with the attacks leveled by the county and the city against each other, or the members of the state House and Senate against each other, or the presidential candidates against their rivals? Yup, government is the problem.

Actually, when I run down all of these examples of government being the problem, I’m surprised that government garnered only 16% of the responses.

Sixteen percent? Not exactly a landslide victory. Does it really mean anything (when “the economy” is at 13%, just a wink or two behind)?

No, not in isolation. But the trend lines may be another matter.

Here’s Gallup’s line chart covering five major issues from 2001 to 2015:


Lydia Saad (January 4, 2016). Government Named Top U.S. Problem for the Second Straight Year.” Gallup.com

Working up from the bottom, one sees the modest rolling wave of concern about immigration, rising to 10% in 2006, falling back to 2% in 2009, then rising, in the last two years, to its current near-high water mark of 8%.

Next comes what Gallup calls Iraq/ISIS (remember that, in 2001, ISIS didn’t exist). By 2004, Iraq is the number one problem, and it will rise to where it captures fully a third of all responses before dropping precipitously the ensuing two years. ISIS begins to attract some concern in the last two years, but only to the same level as poverty/hunger/homelessness and foreign aid.

Unemployment has two peaks in this 15-year period (2004 and 2011), but at no time does it rise to the status of number one problem. That position is reserved, for nine of the 15 years, for the economy. The global financial meltdown propelled the economy to first place in 2008 (a swing of 30 percentage points from the year before), where it stayed until 2014.

Against such dramatic up-and-down swings, the path charted by government as the most important problem is boring. In 2001, the year President George W. Bush was inaugurated after one of the most controversial presidential elections in U.S. history, only about 5% named government as the number one problem. Concern about government remained in single digits until 2010. Until 2014, concern about government was relatively low compared to other pressing issues. At 16%, it’s still not that high . . . but higher these last four years than it had been in the previous decade . . . and by a substantial margin.

Want to know why this is a year for outsiders? Gallup’s numbers give one good reason.

Slightly fewer than one out of every six of our constituents consider government to be the problem. For them, anyone associated with government is likely to be tarred with that brush.

The question is: if government is the problem for them, what do they see as the solution?