Campus Political Leaders React to Polling Showing Government Distrust

College Dems and Republicans agree low trust in government is unsettling

In the wake of a New York Times/CBS poll that indicates that distrust in the federal government is at its highest recorded level, Harvard’s student political leaders say they share the public’s concerns. The national poll found that 89 percent of Americans do not think that they can “trust the government in Washington to do what is right,” and 74 percent think that the country is on the wrong track.

Jonathan L. Newmark ’12, president of the Harvard College Democrats, and Michael W. McLean ’12, president of the Harvard Republican Club, agreed that the poll’s results were unsettling.

“As an American, it’s disconcerting, regardless of politics,” McLean said. At least for now, he said, high levels of dissatisfaction can be found among members of both parties.

In a poll of Harvard students, “I think there’d be a similar trend,” Newmark said. “But I don’t think it would be as extreme.”

“I don’t think it would be different than the student body’s distrust in the Bush era,” he said.

McLean and Newmark both said that the distrust in the government indicates a desire for change in the 2012 election, but how that change will come, unsurprisingly, was up for debate.

“I’m not sure if the President has the political capital and confidence of the American people to take steps to fix the economy,” McLean said.

Newmark said he does not lay blame on the President.

“I understand that rarely is an economic situation the result of one president,” Newmark said. “I try not to lose too much faith.”

But he acknowledged that his fellow Harvard College Democrats were not quite so steadfast in their commitment to the President.

“You definitely see people who are not as enthused as they were in 2008,” Newmark said. “It’s frightening to see that.”

According to the New York Times, the President’s approval rating is 46 percent.

Professor Thomas E. Patterson of the Harvard Kennedy School said that he was not surprised by the results of the national poll, pointing out that confidence in the government peaked before the Vietnam War and, with some exceptions, has been waning ever since. But now, he said, approval is “about as low as it goes.”

“This is a public that for a lot of reasons doesn’t have a lot to root for,” Patterson said.

Patterson said that he does not expect public opinion of the government to improve any time soon, either.

“The economy’s not going to turn around easily,” Patterson said. “There’s hardly anyone who’s very optimistic about the economy.”

He also said it will be difficult to bridge the widening political gap between the two parties.

“It’s hard to see a dramatic policy that will tell Americans that times have changed, that people are acting like grownups,” Patterson said.