How Similar Are Federal Employees to Average Americans? Not Very, It Seems

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Do you feel that the people who work in federal government positions are nothing like the rest of us, and have little idea of what we, the American citizenry, really need and want? If you answered "yes" to that question, you are absolutely right -- and new research from John Hopkins University shows that they don't much care, either.

A barely representative government
JHU political scientists queried 850 employees working either in or directly with the federal government, gauging the differences between the governors and the governed. As it turns out, there are many, such as:

  • More than 90% of federal workers are white, compared with 78% of the American public.
  • Federal workers made an average of $81,704 in 2012, while the average for all Americans working in the private sector was only $54,995.
  • Forty-four percent of Washington insiders have a bachelor's degree, compared to 18% of the general public.
  • Among Capitol Hill employees, 100% think that government is easily understood by people like themselves, compared to 30% of average Americans who feel similarly equipped.

If all that isn't bad enough, study authors Jennifer Bachner and Benjamin Ginsberg conclude that, overall, government insiders dismiss the concerns of the American public, thinking them ignorant and ill-informed.

America feels the same way
There's no love lost between these two groups -- the "rulers and the ruled" -- as the study's authors delineate them. As a matter of fact, the recent vote on Scottish secession prompted nearly one-quarter of U.S. respondents polled by Reuters to say that they would be in favor of their own states breaking away from the federal government.

While a clear majority does not see the benefit of seceding from the U.S., most Americans are not happy with Washington bureaucrats, and have very little faith and trust in the manner in which these insiders are running the country. A Gallup poll taken in early September showed that 76% of persons surveyed expressed dissatisfaction with the direction this country is taking, and nearly half are extremely dissatisfied. Although this reading of America's mood has been fairly stable for the past four years, Gallup notes that dissatisfaction has outweighed satisfaction since 2004.

Gallup's Trust in Government survey also shows the small amount of faith voters have in their leaders, with those expressing at least a fair amount of trust in the three branches of government as follows:

  • Judicial: 61%
  • Executive: 43%
  • Legislative: 28%

As you can see, Americans reserve the least amount of trust and respect for their direct leadership in the hallowed halls of Congress.

In August, CNN found that a teensy 13% of those polled expressed the belief that the government could be trusted to do the right thing at least most of the time -- while more than 75% felt that doing the right thing was something government did only some of the time.

Why this animosity?
It's not difficult to understand why ordinary Americans have disdain for those in power -- particularly since the Great Recession, which wreaked havoc with the financial well-being of almost every citizen. As Gallup notes, however, this state of affairs has persisted for the past 10 years. What makes us so critical of those who govern?

One big issue appears to be that of "power." George Washington University's Battleground Poll recently asked Americans about their levels of confidence in their leaders in Washington, and found some surprising results. While most respondents had confidence that the government can uphold the principles of the U.S. Constitution, 62% believe that Congress has too much power. At least half think that the White House and the federal courts are too powerful, as well.

To where should this power be reallocated? While 58% said that states should have more authority, 88% feel that the American people should be more empowered.

As for the Washington insiders, it seems as if their attitudes toward the masses may be caused by a sense of superiority, perhaps bred by the sequestered lifestyle enjoyed by those who live and work within the beltway.

The authors of the John Hopkins study note that some feel that average Americans need more civic education in order to better understand the workings of government. In their opinion, however, it's the rulers who need to learn the lessons of democracy -- which, I think, is an excellent point.

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