One message coming out of the 2014 election is that voters are unhappy with everyone in Washington. The NBC News national exit poll found that nearly 1-in-5 voters has lost all trust in the federal government, and a similar number are actually angry with both President Obama and the Republican leaders in Congress.
According to the exit poll, 18% of voters say they feel they can never trust the government in Washington to do what is right, compared to 20% who say that they can trust the federal government at least most of the time. Most voters – 60% – say they can trust D.C. to do the right thing only some of time.
Voter trust in Washington is actually lower than it was in the 1994 wave election that swept Republicans into the House of Representatives. Back then, 24% of voters said they trusted government to do what is right, but just 8% said they never trusted government.
In the 1950s and 1960s, large majorities of Americans said they trusted government just about always or most of the time. That number slipped as the Vietnam War stretched on, and fell into the minority with Watergate. Aside from a short rally in confidence in all sorts of public institutions after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, pessimism has been persistent.
Faith in Washington does vary by party, with Democrats being more likely to say that the federal government gets it right most of the time. But even among Democrats, only 28% feel this way, compared to 10% of independents and 11% of Republicans. In fact, Republicans are much more distrustful today than they were during the so-called “Gingrich revolution” midterm election 20 years ago. Back then only 11% of Republicans said they never trusted Washington to do the right thing. Today, that number stands at 21%
Not surprisingly, distrust in Washington is coupled with deep-seated dissatisfaction, and even hostility, toward leaders in both parties.
Obama looks to be about as unpopular with voters as President George W. Bush was in 2006, when his party suffered what Bush called a “shellacking” in that year’s midterm elections. Most voters today say they are either dissatisfied – 32% – or downright angry – 27% – with Obama. Fewer are enthusiastic – 10% – or at least satisfied – 29% – with the current administration. These numbers are similar to voter sentiment about the Bush administration in 2006, when 29% were angry, 30% were dissatisfied, 27% were satisfied, and just 12% were enthusiastic.
Obama may take some solace in the fact that he has company in the D.C. doghouse. In fact, the Republican leaders in Congress are even less popular. Thirty-nine percent of voters are either enthusiastic or satisfied with the GOP leadership. Another 37% are dissatisfied, and 22% feel angry.
One-quarter – 28% – of the 2014 electorate express negative feelings toward both the president and Republican leaders in Congress. And this group of frustrated voters ended up defaulting to the status quo – with 64% voting for the Republican candidate in their House district, and 33% supporting the Democrat.
The bottom line is that two-thirds of voters say the country is on the wrong track, but they may not feel as if they have a lot of options at the ballot box that would alter that trajectory.
Visit NBC News Decision 2014 for more exit poll results and election returns.