Mildred Schwab

Views on Government Falter

There are a lot of fists flying out there during election season and all levels of government seem to be getting their noses bloodied as a result. This fall would be a good time for government agencies to get back to basics and make a robust effort to reach out to citizens in all the many forms that takes.

Why? During the past several years government agencies have fallen in esteem, especially federal agencies.

“Just a third of Americans have a favorable opinion of the federal government, the lowest positive rating in 15 years,” says the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press based on an April survey. Although held in higher public regard by comparison, state and local government have experienced a fall from favor during the recent bad economic years.

What voters say

“While the balance of opinion toward state governments is favorable, majorities say their state government is not careful with people’s money (56 percent), is too divided along party lines (53 percent) and is generally inefficient (51 percent),” the Pew report says.

“But much larger percentages fault the federal government’s performance in those areas. Moreover, while more say their state government is mostly honest rather than mostly corrupt (by 49 percent to 37 percent), a majority (54 percent) says the federal government is mostly corrupt.

Ouch. How do you dig yourself out of that hole?

Some outreach steps

A fall offensive on the part of public affairs managers is worth considering. Needed is a mix of traditional and new tactics. Your program might center on a “No agenda community assessment.”

Governments often wait until there is a big project or major new policy before touching base with the general public or significant interest groups. But a quiet time during the first few months after the general election is a good time to gather public opinion when no particular agenda is being pushed. Possible tactics in an “active listening” campaign may include: