Elon Poll shows most North Carolinians lack faith in elected officials

By Sarah Beth Costello

Dec. 9, 2009

As the economy fluctuates, the unemployment rate climbs, the issue of nationalized health care looms and war is prolonged, many Americans are second guessing the actions and intentions of elected officials.

A Nov. 16-17 Elon University Poll, which surveyed 563 North Carolina residents, revealed that 73 percent of respondents think corruption is prevalent among elected officials. According to 65 percent of those polled, elected officials are more concerned for themselves than the best interest of the public, and 67 percent said corruption is becoming more common among North Carolina public officials.

“I think a lot of citizens are frustrated, and that translates to blame on elected officials because they are the ones that we’ve trusted in making our country better,” Student Government Association President and Elon junior Justin Peterson said. “If the state of the nation is negative, I think our perception of their job would be negative as well.”

The media has reported dozens of political scandals in the past few months, from the promiscuous excursions of South Carolina Sen. Mark Sanford to Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon’s bribery scandals and the questionable actions of Gov. Mike Easley in connection with the hiring of his wife at N.C. State University.

“I think, historically, distrust in government goes back to the 1970s with Watergate,” SGA Vice President Evan Davis said. “I think another issue with that is the state of North Carolina. I know there are problems with the budget and state employees.”

Many North Carolinians blame elected officials for the discrepancies in the budget and handling of finances on a state and local level. The recent recession has impacted thousands of North Carolina households, and the unemployment rate continues to climb.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the North Carolina unemployment rate is 11 percent, increased 4 percent since October 2008.

“Right now, there’s a lot of debate with state officials,” said Taylor Foshee, president of College Democrats. “People think our officials in North Carolina have become complacent and have not addressed some of the pressing issues like the economy and jobs. There’s not enough action for (many), especially given what we perceive to be a severe issue.”

Corruption among elected officials is often widespread and heavily reported, contributing to a lack of faith and support for political leaders. Respondents to the Elon Poll are not the only ones who are wavering in their trust in elected officials.

A Nov. 30 Rasmussen Poll revealed a lack of confidence in politicians, particularly Democrats. The survey was conducted before President Barack Obama’s speech on his plans for the war in Afghanistan.

Voters gave a 13-point edge to Republicans — 50 percent to 37 percent — in regard to trust in national security and the War on Terror.

“The intense frustration with government and politicians among North Carolinians could pose serious ramifications for the electoral landscape in 2010,” said Hunter Bacot, director of the Elon University Poll. “Coupled with a poor economy, the midterm elections may shape up as more of a referendum on government in general rather than the typical repudiation of the party in power.”

More than half of the respondents to the Elon Poll said corruption among North Carolina elected officials is more common today than 10 years ago but most appear to trust North Carolina legislative bodies more than national legislative bodies.

“I would foresee some type of shakeup in upcoming local elections and the larger elections in 2012,” Davis said. “I think it’s going to be interesting how the next couple of years will play out. State politics have been dominated by Democrats, and Republicans haven’t held the House or Senate in 150 years.”

Davis said he thinks many North Carolinians, and Americans in general, are wary of the unfulfilled campaign promises that helped elect Obama into office.

“With the Afghanistan troop surge, many are upset about that because that’s something that Obama was against,” Davis said. “The economy and health care are two mainstream issues that he talked about as well as gay rights and the environment. There are a lot of campaign promises he hasn’t come through on.”

Despite the distrust Americans may have for political leaders, 74 percent of respondents said America has the best government in the world, and 65 percent claimed support of the United States government despite any actions in Washington.

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