Can the new administration competently handle global affairs?

A slim majority of U.S. adults, 52%, now trusts the federal government to handle global problems competently—representing the first time this figure has been at a majority level in five years, according to results of a poll released by Gallup on September 20.

Fewer, 45%, trust the government to handle domestic problems—similar to last year but above the record-low 38% established in 2015. While these findings are far from the historical highs in Gallup’s trend, trust in both areas has edged back up in recent years.

The public generally has trusted the federal government to handle problems abroad more than those at home, and the current readings are no exception. The most recent results are based on Gallup’s annual Governance Poll, conducted in early September.

Trust, as it is described here, is defined as those who say they have “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of trust in the government.

Overall levels of trust for international or domestic problems, while markedly improved from two years ago, have changed little since the same time last year—a fact that would surprise many Americans, given the change in presidential administrations and attitudes (from globalist to nationalist). One year ago, 49% trusted the government with international problems; and 44%, with domestic problems.

When was trust at its highest point? One month after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, in October 2001, trust in the government’s ability to handle both foreign and domestic problems peaked at 83% and 77%, respectively. A decline in those high readings was inevitable, when the rally effect began to fade, yet it wasn’t until two or three years ago that they reached their nadir, Gallup says.

However, trust in handling international problems increased again during Barack Obama’s first term; only to drop off at the start of his second term, when, among other problems, ISIS attacks mounted and tensions with Russia and Syria began heating up.

The pollsters note that, as with many issues today, partisans’ opinions are highly influenced by which party is in the White House. As such, Democrats’ trust in the government to handle both international and domestic problems has fallen sharply this year, while Republicans’ trust on both dimensions has surged.

The current Democratic reading for trust in handling international problems, 40%, is the lowest since George W. Bush’s last months as POTUS. This marks a 34-percentage-point decline since one year ago when Obama was in the White House. Yet, the current Democratic reading is significantly higher than the 23% Republican reading from one year ago, representing some moderation on this dimension of the polarization picture.

Meanwhile, Republicans’ trust in the government’s handling of foreign issues, at 71%, has more than tripled since Donald Trump’s election, although it is still lower than any reading for Republicans during the Bush administration. It is on par with the 74% of Democrats who were satisfied with the government’s handling of international problems a year ago under Obama.

The party readings for trust in government’s handling of domestic problems follow a pattern similar to that of international problems. Yet, each party’s loyalists have less trust in the government to handle domestic issues than foreign issues.

Research contact: 888-274-5447

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