Public Opinion in State Politics

By Jeffrey E. Cohen | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
Does Familiarity Breed Contempt?
Examining the Correlates of State-Level
Confidence in the Federal Government

PAUL BRACE AND MARTIN JOHNSON

Federalism is a central aspect of American government. The original justification for the federal form of government was to preserve personal liberty by dividing the power of the state. Madison argued in Federalist 51 that two levels of government could control each other while controlling themselves. Early federalism was built on the principle of dual sovereignty but since the end of the Civil War sovereignty has tended to concentrate in the national government. Nonetheless states remain integral to American government, electing officials, taxing, and spending for a variety of functions. Modern federalism has grown complex, with overlapping authorities and significant funding flowing from the national government to subnational units.

As power further accumulated at the federal level during the 1960s and early 1970s, the American public appears to have developed an increasingly negative view of the national political system. While Miller (1974) and Citrin (1974) debated the meaning of this precipitous drop in public trust in government, they agreed a sizeable shift in public sentiment occurred. The decline to a lower level of support has been stable, furthermore, and many observers of the contemporary political scene describe a “crisis in confidence” (e.g., Dionne, 1991; Hibbing and Theiss-Morse, 1995). Gallup periodically asks “How much of the time do you think you can trust the government in Washington to do what is right: just about always, most of

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