Declining Government Confidence and Policy Preferences in the U.S.: Devolution, Regime Effects, or Symbolic Change?

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    • Abstract:
      No trend in U.S. public opinion has elicited more enduring concern among scholars, political commentators, and politicians than declining levels of public confidence in the federal government. Motivated by the possibility that this decline signals a crisis of legitimacy or growing dissatisfaction with the overall direction of public policy, two generations of scholarly debates have yielded three competing theoretical interpretations of this phenomenon. While they provide divergent answers to important questions about the devolution of policy-making from the federal government to subnational levels of government, competing hypotheses implied by these interpretations have not been successfully evaluated. We seek to advance theory and research by investigating whether governmental confidence affects the public's willingness to support federal involvement within specific policy domains such as health care and education. Evaluating hypotheses implied by competing interpretations of declining government confidence, we find that the relationship between government confidence and polity preferences is small and shows no evidence of trends. We discuss implications for competing interpretations of government confidence and the possible role of declining confidence in explaining con temporary patterns of welfare state retrenchment. [ABSTRACT FROM AUTHOR]
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