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Poll: Americans trust local over federal gov't

BY ASMAA ELKEURTI | OCTOBER 13, 2011 7:20 AM

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Americans are more confident that their local and state governments can handle problems than they are that the president and Congress can, according to a recent Gallup Poll.

For local government officials and political-science experts, the poll reflects issues of communication, representation of the different entities, as well as the differences in problems each government must face. And while the result may be seemingly simple, the reasons behind it are complex.

"For the most part, we don't deal with quite as many controversial topics," said Johnson County Board of Supervisor, Rod Sullivan. "I understand the folks at the federal level have a difficult job, and I respect what they're trying to do."

Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, agreed.

"State-level problems are more manageable and easier to find solutions for," he said. "The problems at the federal level are extraordinarily complex."

Iowa State University political-science senior lecturer Dirk Deams said media coverage can also affect the public perception of federal government.

"It's been well-known that local American journalism has collapsed in favor of large national chains," Deams said.

When more attention is focused nationally, people become more aware of the positives and negatives of the federal government, he said. And because federal government receives more media coverage, Americans are less aware of what goes on locally.

Sullivan said he believes political motives can inhibit the effectiveness of any form of government.

"I think at the local level, we don't have to play as much politics," he said. "So politics don't get in the way of making the right decision. There are no Democratic or Republican potholes at the local level."

But political differences do exist at the state level, Bolkcom said.

"Local government is partisan, but I don't think it's as partisan as you see at the federal level," he said. "All the political maneuvering gets in the way of getting anything done."

People trust their own members of Congress more than they trust the institution of congress, Deam said.

"With respect to the institution, which is just an abstraction, there is no connection, and then every bad thing you hear is the only thing you know," he said.

"People are far more likely to know what's going on in national politics than they are about what's going on in their own cities and states, and that's especially true in Iowa," he said. "And this is based on conversations I've had."

Local-government officials also said people have more direct access to their local representatives — through public meetings and listed contact information online — and that can foster more trust and satisfaction with performance.

"When people look at federal stuff, they often think they're somewhat voiceless." Sullivan said. "People are free to call us anytime or come to our office anytime, and usually they get a prompt response."


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