Trust in government is low, but Americans are united around investments in technology

Despite generally low trust, Americans are confident that the federal government will play a role in bettering their lives, and support efforts to enhance data security.

September 16, 2021

Despite low levels of trust in government, the public expresses optimism that federal government initiatives can have a positive impact on their lives—especially investments in technology, according to a new study by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and MeriTalk.

Few trust the federal government, and confidence in the government to spend money in the best interest of the public is low. Just 15% of American adults say they trust the federal government to do what’s right for them and their families all or most of the time. Additionally, just 9% express confidence in the ability of the federal government to spend money in the public’s best interest and 22% feel the government is able to deliver citizen services fairly, regardless of race, ethnicity, or other personal characteristics.

Even so, most see the federal government playing the same or a more important role in improving the lives of the American people in the next 10 years. While citizens express general satisfaction with information provided by government websites and access to citizen services during the pandemic, the majority see opportunities for the federal government to improve their experiences, especially in the realms of health care and online data security.

For many Americans, investments in technology by the federal government are key to not only improving America’s standing as a global economic leader, but also to the federal government’s ability to provide impactful improvements in the lives of citizens.

Despite a lack of confidence in overall government spending, 68% say that federal government investments in technology pay off. Seventy-eight percent say technology plays a major role in the United States’ ability to compete globally, and 69% support increased funding for technological research and development.

When it comes to the potential downsides of technology, Americans see a role for the federal government to play as well. Forty-three percent of adults say funding for training programs for workers to gain new skill sets in the face of increases in automation would have a major impact on their lives. More than 7 in 10 adults say the federal government should establish national standards for how companies collect, process, and share personal data to help protect the privacy and security of individuals in an increasingly online world.

The nationwide poll was conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and MeriTalk from June 24 to 28, 2021, using AmeriSpeak®, the probability-based panel of NORC at the University of Chicago. Online and telephone interviews using landlines and cell phones were conducted with 1,004 adults. The margin of sampling error is +/- 4.3 percentage points.

Other key findings from the report:

  • About half of those who used federal government websites such as the Census Bureau, the IRS, or the CDC to look up information say the websites were informative and easy to use.
  • 68% want the federal government to prioritize improving health care and 61% want it to devote a good deal of time to data security and privacy.
  • 7 in 10 support the federal government treating personal data security as a national security issue and investing in cyber security.
  • 8 in 10 say the government has been at least somewhat effective at connecting citizens to needed services like unemployment and food assistance during the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Just 1 in 4 express pride in the way democracy works in the United States. One in 5 are proud of the country’s political influence in the world.
  • Just 1 in 5 say the federal government is very or extremely effective at adapting to the digital world.



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Press Release

Press Release: Few Americans Trust the Federal Government To Do What's Right For Them And Their Families

Despite low trust, they are optimistic about government's potential for positive impact, especially in technology

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