Young people could be the answer to our government’s trust problem
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Young people could be the answer to our government’s trust problem

December 20, 2023
Sam Andrews

Today, just 30% of Americans aged 18-34 trust our federal government, a sign that Generation Z is much more skeptical of public institutions than the U.S. population as a whole.  

To get a firsthand look at this trend, I took to the streets and asked a small group of George Washington University students three questions: 

  • On a scale of 1-10, how much do you trust the government and why?  
  • Why do you think your generation trusts the government so little?  
  • Do you or do you not trust the average federal employee? 

I interviewed a very small number of people, 10 students total, but found the conversations revealing.  

One common theme that emerged is that our government has a messaging problem. Some students shared that through school and social media, they had learned mostly about America’s destructive role in global affairs and had come to be critical of America’s role in the world.  

Others felt hopeless about the government because of “broken promises” and a growing belief that Congress and the executive branch focus too much on playing politics instead of implementing policy that benefits the public. 

This finding aligns with our own research at the Partnership. We found, for example, that many people have positive experiences when dealing with specific federal services like getting a new passport or paying their taxes but are still sour on government because they equate it with elected leaders and not the career workforce.

To change this narrative, agencies could better publicize and promote what their federal employees do every day to serve the public and improve people’s lives. As noted in a previous blog post, young people look to social media for positive stories about government and believe it is important for federal agencies to maintain a social media presence.  

Our Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals® winners, particularly those who are under 35 in the Emerging Leaders category, also exemplify positive stories about government and feature leaders who are getting the job done, and doing it well. 

If you are a young person in America, what else would you help you better understand how our government serves the public? 

Featured image: Fletcher Schoen and Jennifer Harkins from the Department of State receive the 2023 Service to America Medal® in the Emerging Leaders category. Photo credit: Allison Shelley.

Sam Andrews is an intern at the Partnership’s communications team.

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