In a new video, above, RSF author Suzanne Mettler (Cornell University) discusses research from her new book, The Government-Citizen Disconnect. She notes that although today more Americans than ever benefit from some form of government social provision, polls show that people’s trust in the government has plummeted. What accounts for this gulf between people’s perceptions of the government and the actual role it plays in their lives?
Mettler recently outlined the rise of this paradox, which she calls the “government-citizen disconnect,” in an op-ed for the New York Times. Though people’s perceptions of government can be influenced by a number of factors, Mettler found that respondents’ opinions on welfare most consistently and strongly shaped their views of government. “Those who had highly unfavorable opinions of welfare, regardless of how many social benefits they themselves had received, held much more negative views about government,” she writes. “People seemed to view welfare as a microcosm of government: If they perceived it as a ‘handout’ for the undeserving, or felt that they were unfairly denied benefits because they earned too much, they held government in low esteem.”
As a result, Mettler points out, ongoing efforts by the Trump administration and other conservative policymakers to stigmatize welfare and restrict safety net policies will only serve to exacerbate the government-citizen disconnect.