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Voters Believe Government Is Living Up to Constitutional Ideals but Should Have Less Power

GW Battleground Poll Releases New National Political Confidence Index

September 17, 2014
Jason Shevrin: 202-994-5631, [email protected]
Emily Grebenstein: 202-994-3087, [email protected]
WASHINGTON–The president and members of Congress swear an oath to support, preserve and defend the Constitution of the United States. According to the inaugural findings from the George Washington University Battleground Poll’s National Political Confidence Index (NPCI), they are largely up to the task.
The NPCI asked respondents to rate how much confidence they have in the national government to achieve the goals outlined in the preamble of the Constitution. 
Though Americans remain confident in the federal government’s ability to uphold most of the ideals outlined in America’s founding document, they would still like to see the national government’s power decrease. A majority of respondents (62 percent) say Congress should have less power and only 24 percent would like to see its strength increase. Most would like to see less power held by the White House (52 percent) and the federal courts (50 percent).
Large amounts of Americans would like to see power shift to non-federal levels. An overwhelming majority (88 percent) of likely voters would like to see “the people” with more power. Nearly three-fifths of respondents (58 percent) would like to see increased authority given to state governments. 
“Whether we are speaking about Democrat, Republican or independent voters, we should hope that Americans have confidence in our government's capacity to provide these fundamental values, even though they might disagree about the specific policies—or lack thereof—coming out of Washington,” said Christopher Arterton, poll director and GW professor of political management.
“The question addressed by this index is whether hyper-partisan arguing and the resulting gridlock is weakening Americans’ confidence in our system of government. At present, these likely voters are slightly above neutral, evidencing a reserve of confidence. That's good, but we will need further measurements to establish the trend lines, particularly after the 2014 and 2016 elections,” Arterton said.
When asked about individual provisions in the preamble of the Constitution, voters have the most faith in federal officials to uphold the security and law enforcement responsibilities. The public has faith in the federal government to “provide for the common defense,” with 69 percent expressing confidence and 28 percent not confident. Fifty-nine percent are confident in the government’s ability to “establish Justice” with 40 percent expressing reservations.
Almost all elements of the preamble enjoy strong support, including the duties to “promote the general Welfare” (54 percent confident) and “secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity” (57 percent). 
The NPCI found only two constitutional goals where opinions reflected the politically divided populace. Only half of those polled had faith in the federal government to “insure domestic Tranquility” (50 percent) and 44 percent were confident in the national government to “form a more perfect Union.”
The poll, which was conducted in late August, soon after the events in Ferguson, Missouri, showed that racial minorities still hold strong confidence in the national government. Higher percentages of blacks are confident than whites in the national government’s ability to “form a more perfect Union” (66 percent of blacks vs. 39 percent of whites), “insure domestic Tranquility” (64 percent vs. 48) and “promote the general Welfare” (70 percent vs. 50 percent). Most blacks (63 percent) also held confidence in the government to “establish Justice.”
More Information
The NPCI was conducted as part of the GW Battleground Poll in partnership with the Tarrance Group and Lake Research Partners; the new index poll data will correspond with the annual celebration of Constitution Day. Respondents rated confidence in the national government from zero (no confidence) to 100 (total confidence). Voters who gave a rating of 50 or higher were considered to be “confident” and lower scores were rated “not confident.”
For a full breakdown of ratings, including cross-tabs by gender, geography, race, political party and other factors, visit
About the George Washington University Battleground Poll
The George Washington University Battleground Poll is a nationally recognized series of surveys conducted by Republican pollster Ed Goeas of The Tarrance Group and Democratic pollster Celinda Lake of Lake Research Partners. The George Washington University’s Graduate School of Political Management (GSPM) and the School of Media and Public Affairs (SMPA) serve as the university’s home for the partnership. GW’s Estelle and Melvin Gelman Library houses the data archive of the survey results dating back more than two decades.
The poll, which is distinguished from other surveys by its presentation of separate analyses from these top pollsters representing both sides of the aisle, surveyed 1,000 registered likely voters nationwide Aug. 24 through Aug. 28, and included a protocol for reaching mobile phone users. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points.
Interview Opportunities
Christopher Arterton, founding dean of GW’s Graduate School of Political Management (contact Jason Shevrin at 202-994-5631)
Celinda Lake, president of Lake Research Partners (contact Anderson Gardner at 202-776-9066)
Ed Goeas, president and CEO of The Tarrance Group (contact Brian Nienaber at 703-684-6688)
The George Washington University
In the heart of the nation’s capital with additional programs in Virginia, the George Washington University was created by an Act of Congress in 1821. Today, GW is the largest institution of higher education in the District of Columbia. The university offers comprehensive programs of undergraduate and graduate liberal arts study, as well as degree programs in medicine, public health, law, engineering, education, business and international affairs. Each year, GW enrolls a diverse population of undergraduate, graduate and professional students from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and more than 130 countries.