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The Paradox of Voter Distrust in Government

by Eileen Norcross on October 6, 2010

in State Policy

A new survey by The Pew Center on the States and Public Policy Institute of California reveals that residents of five states: California, Florida, Illinois, New York and Arizona largely distrust their governments. Residents don’t like what they see as waste and inefficiency in state budgets, but trust that with the right reforms government can deliver services they deem important (notably, K-12 education and health services) more efficiently. In fact, they wouldn’t mind paying more taxes for these things. When it comes to other areas of spending such as corrections, transportation and higher education residents prefer states “tax the other guy.”

The take-away: people want less debt and a “better return on their tax dollars.”

The implication is that poorly delivered services and bad fiscal management are due to the failures of elected individuals rather than of institutions.

The survey reveals that while many economists may view government inefficiency in terms of public versus private goods, the impossibility of ranking voter preferences, the calculation probleminstitutional economics, and public choice theory, most people think of their governments as a kind of hybridized marketplace-bureaucracy capable of responding to individual constituency demands by offering better “prices” for a service they, as individuals, desire.

Pew’s survey provides an interesting look at how people may view the nature and therefore the role of the state.

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