The anger that many Americans felt about government has substantially eased, with much of the decline attributed to a mellowing among Republicans and those in the "tea party" movement, according to a Pew poll released on Thursday.
The change in anger hasn't shifted peoples' feelings about the need for political compromise, with a majority saying they prefer politicians who stick to their positions. That is about the same as last September, before the midterm elections that gave Republicans control of the House of Representatives and greater influence in the Senate.
In many ways, the two issues -- the ability to compromise and popular discontent -- help define the boundaries of political discourse as Washington prepares to get serious about budget and economic issues in the next few months and as the 2012 presidential contenders begin to stake out their positions. Congress is still debating how to deal with the size and scope of spending cuts needed to resolve this year's budget, with the battles over next year's on deck.
Conducted Feb. 22 to March 1, the latest national survey of 1,504 adults by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press found a small uptick in public trust in government, while the overall mood remained negative.
Public trust in government to do what is right most of the time or better rose from 22% last March to 29% in the current poll. About 69% said they trust government only some of the time or never, a better standing than last year, when 76% were negative.
Republicans seem to have mellowed the most. The percentage who said they can trust the government always or most of the time has increased from 13% to 24% over the past year, while Democrats have remained steady at about 34%.
In many polls, a majority of the public said it was frustrated with government. In the current Pew poll, 59% said they were frustrated with the federal government, while 22% were content. Significantly, 14% said they were angry with the government, a 9-percentage-point drop since September.
Democrats have remained relatively constant, but Republicans and tea party supporters had the biggest easing. In the current survey, 16% of Republicans said they were angry with the government, down from 33% in September. About 47% of tea party supporters said in September of last year that they were angry with the federal government, and that dropped to 28% in the current survey.
On the question of digging in their heels, 53% said they liked elected officials who stick to their positions -- about the same as last fall. Republicans said they prefer elected officials who stick to their positions (63%) over elected officials who compromise with people they disagree with (32%). But Republicans split internally, with 25% of conservatives saying they liked elected officials to compromise, compared with 47% of moderate and liberal Republicans.
While Americans are wary at best about government, they seem more happy with some of the benefits they could receive, according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll. What to do about entitlement programs is a subtext in the current battle over deficits and debt. Many on both sides of the aisle see some sort of action on entitlements as an inevitable clash.
According to the WSJ/NBC poll, less than a quarter of Americans support making significant cuts to Social Security or Medicare to deal with the federal deficit. By large margins, Americans said it was "unacceptable'' to make significant cuts in entitlement programs. Even tea party supporters opposed cuts by a nearly 2-to-1 margin.
Yet more than 60% of poll respondents said they supported reducing Social Security and Medicare payments to wealthier Americans, and more than half favored increasing the retirement age to 69 by 2075.