While the White House and congressional Republicans fixate on the tax bill, most Americans have their eyes on other issues. According to Gallup:
“Americans named dissatisfaction with government as the most important problem facing the nation in 2017, the third time in the past four years that government has been at the top of the list. The second most frequently mentioned problem in 2017 was healthcare, followed by race relations, immigration, the need to unify the country, and the economy.”
In fact, concern about government in the Trump presidency is cited by more Americans (20 percent) than in the Obama years. Interestingly, “Mentions of government as the top problem have been high at other periods over the past several decades, including: in 1973 and 1974 during the Watergate scandal; in 1996 in the aftermath of the late 1995/early 1996 government shutdown; and at the time of the government shutdown in 2013 (reaching the all-time high of 33% mentioning government in a single poll in October of that year).” Coming at a time that Republicans control the House, Senate and White House, this level of dissatisfaction should worry those on the ballot in 2018 with an “R” next to their name.
And what about taxes? You have to drop down below unemployment, education, environment and a slew of issues to get to that item on the list of top concerns. A mere 2 percent put taxes at the top of the list (tied with “the media”). To the extent Republicans are counting on an economic argument to drum up support for their tax bill, they may find it hard to convince voters of the tax bill’s necessity:
“Even though one of the stated goals of tax reform is to stimulate economic growth, the economy as the nation’s top problem has declined significantly in Americans’ minds. Seven percent named the economy in general as the nation’s top problem in 2017, and 21% mentioned any aspect of the economy as the top problem, the lowest yearly average for this net economic measure since Gallup began monthly tracking of the most important problem question in 2001.
“Other measures confirm that Americans perceive a more positive economic climate today, indicating that the need to stimulate the economy is apparently not the public’s highest priority.”
This makes sense given the healthy growth rate, unemployment hovering around 4 percent and low inflation.
The president who got elected as the crusading outsider promising to drain the swamp has failed to garner the public’s trust: “If there is one message arising from the assessment of Americans’ views of the nation’s top problems in 2017, it is that government leaders need to focus on themselves and figure out ways to improve the negative manner in which they are viewed by the public, as well as the negative views of the ways they go about their business.”
Given a president (an accused sexual predator) who bullies, insults, divides the country and undermines democratic norms - as well as a Congress with its own hyper-partisanship, sexual harassment scandals and unpopular agenda (repeal Obamacare, tax cuts for the rich) - voters understandably are worried about their government. Pols arguably are more out of touch and more contemptuous of the public and the rule of law than at any time since Watergate.
Voters have plenty of reason to be concerned - even before the special counsel renders judgment on the administration’s conduct. The good news is that voters aren’t sitting at home curled up in the fetal position. Far from it. We’ve seen high voter turnout in off-year elections, a record number of candidates seeking office and mass rallies in the first year of the current presidency (actually the first week). It seems voters have figured it out: If they don’t like their government, they must be more engaged citizens and change it. We wish them all the best.
Jennifer Rubin is a Washington Post columnist.