Public perceptions of civil servants: A breakdown based on political affiliation and age
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Public perceptions of civil servants: A breakdown based on political affiliation and age

May 30, 2023 | Updated on June 2, 2023

To gain a better understanding of the public’s views of government and civil servants, we conducted two nationally representative surveys—one in 2021 that became the basis for our first trust in government report and another in 2022—with its major findings published here.

Both times, we were pleased to find that a majority of people in the U.S. have a positive view of nonelected government officials—who make up most of the federal workforce—despite low levels of trust in government as a whole. Our most recent data, for example, shows that 62% of respondents view civil servants favorably, while only 19% have more negative views.

Nevertheless, this data reveals some surprising findings based on political affiliation and age.

Views based on political affiliation

First, while we continue to find a large difference between Democrats and Republicans when it comes to perceptions of government as a whole—52% of Democrats indicate they trust the government but only 23% of Republicans do—the partisan divide is significantly smaller on perceptions of civil servants.

Nearly three-quarters—74%—of Democrats say they have a favorable opinion of them, and 60% of Republicans agree.

Given the increasingly stark disagreements between the supporters of the two parties, this is an important finding that offers a potential point of consensus.

Views based on age

On the other hand, our survey showed that age has more of an influence on views of public servants.

Younger people—ages 18-34—appear to hold less favorable opinions of federal employees than people over 65, and our findings reveal a general correlation between youth and less positive views of civil servants.

This trend mirrors the relationship between age and trust: Just 30% of the 18-34 age group—but 44% of those 65 or over—trust our federal government.

This data suggests that the federal government needs to pay closer attention to young people.

As we have previously reported, only 7% of the federal workforce is under the age of 30 compared with 20% of the U.S. labor force. This lack of young talent in government could partly be a result of the diminished trust in the institution among millennials and members of Generation Z.

While the government’s perception problem spans generations and will persist if not addressed, negative views among younger people in particular will likely contribute to the government’s ongoing struggle to replenish its talent base with professionals in the early stages of their careers.

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