Utah Voters Want Government Close to Home

lavarr policy insightsThe mood of the electorate is always a big factor in any election. And the mood of the electorate in 2016 election is easy to observe – voters are agitated, unhappy, suspicious and anti-establishment.

Not every voter feels that way, of course, but enough do that the improbable election bids of the two anti-establishment candidates, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, were catapulted forward.

Many voters want someone to go to Washington and blow things up, shake up government. Voters are fed up with government dysfunction and economic malaise. They are also suspicious of all large institutions and bureaucratic organizations.

These perceptions are borne out in survey research done in Utah and Idaho by Dan Jones & Associates for Utah Policy Daily and Idaho Politics Weekly. We’ve already reported some of these numbers, but the sentiment against big, bureaucratic institutions is quite remarkable. By contrast, voters are supportive of organizations that are small and local – those they have a personal relationship with.

We asked Utah and Idaho voters to rate how confident they are in several different institutions. One big institution that did rank high in confidence was the military. In fact, the military enjoys more confidence than any other institution measured.

But for the most part, small and local institutions have the confidence of voters, while large, far-away institutions don’t. For example, “your bank” had high confidence, but Wall Street Banks tied for last in confidence. “Small business” ranked far better than “big business” or “organized labor.” 

States, city governments, county governments, the state legislature and “your representative in Congress” performed far better than Congress, the federal government or the presidency.

“Your neighborhood public school” ranked better than “public schools” in general.

So what’s the lesson here? Voters don’t like government that is big and far away. They want personal relationships with institutions that serve them. They like government and other institutions that are small and close to home.

I believe voters are justified in holding these opinions. In this era of decentralization, customization and networking, big, bureaucratic, one-size-fits-all institutions don’t work very well. The federal government is the best illustration.

It has gotten so large, so bureaucratic, so unaccountable and ungovernable that it is gridlocked and dysfunctional. More government responsibilities, funding and functions need to be brought back to local and state levels where voter trust still exists. State and local governments can still solve problems and get things done.