Half of Americans Have a Negative View of Federal Government

Democrat Donkey and Republican Elephant

The majority of Americans continue to have a very or somewhat negative view of the federal government. In fact, less than a third of U.S. adults say they view the federal government in a favorable light. While higher than the 17% recorded in 2011, it still paints a dismal picture of American attitudes toward the country’s highest administration.

According to a Gallup, Inc. report, 29% of Americans have a favorable view of the federal government. But what that also means is that 52% of Americans hold “somewhat” or “very” negative views of it.

The current views are tied with where they were in 2009, which was President Obama’s first year in office. Approximately one-fifth (19%) of American adults are neutral. Negative views of the government have surpassed positive views in all but one of Gallup’s polls—the very first one in 2003, when George W. Bush was president.

American attitudes toward their government fluctuate wildly. In 2008 and 2011, they were at lows of 18% and 17% respectively. Views were most positive in 2003, when 41% of Americans viewed the federal government in a positive light; that number most likely reflects a continuation of the country’s post-9/11 rally around the administration.


Today’s reading also suggests that U.S. adults have a less favorable reading of the government than they do of Wall Street. Comparatively, the federal government has the lowest approval rating of any of the 25 business or industry sectors, ranking below the pharmaceutical industry’s 33%.

Over the last 14 years that Gallup has tracked attitudes toward the federal government, Republicans and Democrats have, as one would expect, held significantly different views, following party lines related to the president.

When George W. Bush was in the Oval Office, Republicans were more positive; during the Obama years, Democrats were more positive. The two groups’ positive ratings have differed by 11 percentage points in every poll since 2003.

Currently, given the switch over from a Democrat to a Republican president, Democrats’ positive views of the federal government have dropped 17 points from last year’s 45%. Meanwhile, positive views from the Republican camp have increased by 21 points since 2016. These changes echo the shifts seen in 2009, when Obama became president, but obviously, the changes were in the opposite direction.

Before 2009, there was an 11-point gap in positive views, but before 2017, the gap was much larger, at 37 points. The shift in views of the federal government is somewhat predictable (with Trump now in office) in that the two divergent groups’ views are now aligned.

Overall, in 2017, Republicans have more reason to be positive and confident in the federal government because their party is in the White House and retains control of Congress.

Democrats, meanwhile, have more reason to hold negative views of the federal government, because Trump won the election and because of their minority status in Congress.

Still, 71% of Americans hold a “very” or “somewhat” negative view of the government—or simply don’t care.



Three in 10 in U.S. Have Positive Views of Federal Government,” Gallup, Inc., August 24, 2017.