For the first time ever, the American National Election Study has allowed respondents in its annual survey of trust in government to answer “never.” Here’s how that simple addition changed results.
A survey question is only as good as its choices. Sometimes an important choice has been left off of the menu. I was Gallup polled once, long ago. I’ve always felt that they didn’t get my real opinion.
“What’d they ask?” said my brother when I mentioned it to him.
“You know, they asked whether I approved of the way the President was doing his job.” Nixon—this was in 1969.
“What’d you say?”
“I said I disapproved of his entire existential being.”
I was exaggerating my opinion, and I didn’t actually say that to the pollster. But even if I had, my opinion would have been coded as “disapprove.”
For many years the American National Election Study has asked: “How much of the time do you think you can trust the government in Washington to do what is right—just about always, most of the time or only some of the time?”
The trouble with these choices at that they exclude the truly disaffected. The worst you can say about the federal government is that it can be trusted “only some of the time.” A few ornery souls say they don’t trust the federal at all. But because that view is a write-in candidate, it usually gets only one or two percent of the vote.