By Popular Demand: Revitalizing Representative Democracy through Deliberative Elections

By John Gastil | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 1
Introduction

There are two fundamental problems in American politics. The first is that most Americans do not believe that elected officials represent their interests. The second is that they are correct.

Public confidence in government is alarmingly low. One of the most reliable ongoing academic studies—the General Social Survey—has asked Americans a similar question about confidence in the U. S. Congress for over twenty years. In 1974, 17 percent of respondents had “a great deal of confidence” in Congress, but that figure dropped to 13 percent in 1984 and to 8 percent in 1994. Meanwhile, the percentage expressing “hardly any” confidence in Congress went up from 21 percent in 1974 and 1984 to 39 percent in 1994. The same survey found that more and more Americans believe that “most public officials are not really interested in the problems of the average man [sic]. ” In 1974, 64 percent of respondents agreed with that statement, and that number rose to 68 percent in 1984 and 74 percent in 1994. 1

Not only do Americans have a particularly dim view of Congress, they place little trust in other elected officials. Public confidence in the executive branch of the federal government has declined in tandem with the drop in the public's estimation of Congress. Roughly 10 percent of Americans have “a great deal” of confidence in Congress and the executive branch. When forced to choose, most survey respondents say that state governments “do a better job running things” than the

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