With the Supreme Court issuing consequential—and controversial—decisions and Congress and the White House often gridlocked, how much trust do Californians have in the federal government? Most lack trust in the federal government to do what is right—and many think it is run by a few big interests looking out for themselves.
Our May survey found that just one in four Californians trust the federal government to do what is right just about always (5%) or most of the time (20%). Overwhelming majorities trust Washington to do what is right only some of the time (60%) or volunteer that they can never trust the federal government (12%). Trust in the federal government has varied over the past 20 years, ranging from a low of roughly 20% to a high of about 40%.
While fewer than three in ten adults across parties trust the government most or all of the time, trust is especially low among Republicans (10%). Over time, partisans in each party have usually trusted the federal government more when their party controlled the White House. However, trust has sometimes declined among those in the same party as the president. Notably, trust in the federal government dropped 17 points among Democrats from September 2021 (46%) to May 2022 (29%).
Across regions and demographic groups, 33% or fewer trust the government just about always or most of the time. However, there are some differences. Residents in the San Francisco Bay Area (33%) are the most likely to express trust, while those in the Inland Empire (9%) are the least likely. Across racial/ethnic groups, trust is highest among Latinos (35%), followed by Asian Americans (29%), whites (19%), and African Americans (18%).
While partisans have differing levels of trust in the federal government, they tend to agree that special interests have a big impact. More than seven in ten Californians think that the federal government is run by a few big interests looking out for themselves. More than eight in ten Republicans and independents as well as three in four Democrats hold this pessimistic view. There are some differences across regions: more than three in four in the Inland Empire (85%), the Central Valley (82%), and Orange/San Diego (76%) think the government is run by a few big interests, compared to 67% in Los Angeles and 62% in the San Francisco Bay Area. Across racial/ethnic groups, African Americans and whites are much more likely than Asian Americans and Latinos to characterize the federal government in this way.
In the midterm elections—which are less than six months away—turnout and electoral outcomes may come down to how voters view the federal government and which candidates they can trust to tackle the country’s challenges. Follow the PPIC Statewide Survey as we track these important views.