The public’s support of public servants
While a majority of the public in the U.S. is distrustful of the federal government, their view is much more favorable regarding our nation’s civil servants, the people working behind-the-scenes to carry out a wide array of federal programs and policies.
A nationwide public opinion poll conducted by the Partnership for Public Service and Freedman Consulting found that only 4 in 10 Americans trust the federal government to do what is right at least some of the time. But 62% of the public has a positive view of the nation’s 2 million public servants.
The data also suggests a few other trends showing support for government workers. Most people believe in some “good” motivations of those who choose to work for the federal government. And interestingly, the respondents who believe that federal government employees “help people like me” are more likely to trust the government overall.
In addition, the public agreed by a rate greater than two-to-one that federal employees are “as competent as an average private sector employee,” that they are “doing public service,” “are hard workers” and “competent.”
Motivations for public service
When asked why people might choose a federal job, the top three reasons given by the poll respondents were benefits, job security and salary. While this may be positive for federal employee recruitment, perceived high benefits and salary for federal employees have made some private-sector workers feel more disaffected. In addition, many respondents thought that government workers valued serving their communities (57%) and public service (47%). However, 40% of those surveyed said public servants chose their jobs for control and 37% said it was for power.
Correlation between trust and perception that the government helps their community
Fifty percent of survey respondents thought non-elected federal employees were “committed to helping people like me” and doing public service. Those who think the federal government helps people like them are more likely to trust the federal government “to do what’s right.”
When thinking about ways to increase trust in government overall, leaders should consider highlighting the positive work of public servants to demonstrate how they are serving the needs of the public and contributing to the nation’s well-being.
More detailed information about public trust in government and ways to amplify a positive message about the important role of the government in our society can be found in the Partnership for Public Service’s report, Trust in Government: A Close Look at Public Perceptions of the Federal Government and its Employees.
Good leadership is a critical element for effective government and for increasing public trust. The Public Service Leadership Institute can help develop public servants into leaders worthy of the public’s trust through specialized instruction on effective leadership, communication and teamwork.