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Shutdown Highlights Lack of Public Identification with Government
Emily Fetsch,

A new poll shows Americans have plenty of blame to go around with regard to the government shutdown. Trust in government is at an all-time low, with another CNN poll showing just 10 percent of Americans approve of the way Congress is handling its job compared to an overwhelming 87 percent who disapprove. Americans’ disapproval of the government relates strongly to how Americans view the government.

A PRRI survey asked Americans to respond to the question, “When you think and talk about government, do you tend to think of it more as ‘the government’ or more as ‘our government?’” It found more than half (52 percent) of Americans think of it as “the government,” while 46 percent say it’s “our government.” Identification with the government highlights a partisan divide, as majorities of Republicans (56 percent) and independents (58 percent) view the government as “the government,” while 56 percent of Democrats identify the government as “our government.”

Race and religion also play a role in determining how people view government. Fifty-eight percent of Hispanics say it’s “our government,” while majorities of white and black Americans view it as “the government.” Majorities of Hispanic Catholics and non-Christians view government as “our government.” Majorities of other religious groups view it as “the government,” including white evangelical Protestants (59 percent), white mainline Protestants (57 percent), black Protestants (53 percent), white Catholics (57 percent), and the religiously unaffiliated (51 percent).

Age is another factor in how people view the government. Young people between the ages of 18 and 29 are most likely to view government as “the government,” with six-in-ten (62 percent) viewing government as “the government.” Half of Americans older than 65 (56 percent) and ages 50 to 64 (50 percent) view the government as “our government.” Education also helps to determine views. A majority of college graduates (53 percent) view the government as “our government,” while four-in-ten Americans with some college (43 percent) and those with a high school education or less (44 percent) view the government as “our government.” Older and more educated Americans are groups more likely to view the government as “our government,” as well as be more politically active.

How Americans view the government affects their support for government activity, government approval, and view of government services. Federal government leaders should take note of the “us versus them” mentality many Americans have toward government; as the government shutdown continues to make citizens feel disaffected toward their government, it is likely the number of people who identify with the government and its leaders will continue to shrink.