By Charles Babington and Jennifer Agiesta, AP
WASHINGTON — Americans enter 2014 with a profoundly negative view of their government, expressing little hope that elected officials can or will solve the nation’s biggest problems, a new poll finds.
Half say America’s system of democracy needs either “a lot of changes” or a complete overhaul, according to the poll conducted by the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. Just 1 in 20 says it works well and needs no changes.
Americans, who have a reputation for optimism, have a sharply pessimistic take on their government after years of disappointment in Washington.
The percentage of Americans saying the nation is heading in the right direction hasn’t topped 50 in about a decade. In the new poll, 70 percent lack confidence in the government’s ability “to make progress on the important problems and issues facing the country in 2014.”
The poll comes about two months after partisan gridlock prompted the first government shutdown in 17 years.
People feel somewhat better about their personal lives. Most have at least some confidence that they’ll be able to handle their own problems in the coming year. A narrow majority say they’d do a better job running the country than today’s leaders in Washington.
Local and state governments inspire more faith than the federal government, according to the poll, with 45 percent at least moderately confident in their state government and 54 percent expressing that much confidence in their local government.
When asked to name up to 10 world or national problems they would “like the government to be working on” in 2014, Americans chiefly cite issues that have dominated — and often flummoxed — the White House and Congress for five years. Health care reform topped the list. It is likely, however, that those naming the issue include both opponents and supporters of U.S. President Barack Obama’s sweeping health care overhaul.
Jobs and the economy were next, followed by the nation’s debt and deficit spending.
Some issues that draw ample media and campaign attention rank lower in the public’s priorities. No more than 3 percent of Americans listed gay rights, abortion or domestic spying as prime topics for government action.