Obama implores trust in government as trust slides

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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President Barack Obama’s back-to-school speech on Wednesday combined traditional exhortations to students with a campaign-trail promise of extensive government aid, but three new surveys clearly show that swing-voters’ trust in such promises has declined sharply since Obama took office.

“We’re taking every step we can to ensure that you’re getting an educational system that is worthy of your potential … to make sure that you have the most up-to-date schools with the latest tools of learning … [and] that this country’s colleges and universities are affordable and accessible to you,” he told a cheering crowd of 500 black students and teachers at D.C.‘s Benjamin Banneker High School.

His entire speech did not mention companies or employers, and only twice mentioned business. This government-centered pitch is intended to raise Obama’s slipping support among his base voters — blacks, Latinos and progressives.

Obama’s speech is also aimed at independent voters, who play a decisive role in swing-states such as Virginia, North Carolina and Ohio.

But several polls released this week show those independents — and some Democrats — are increasingly skeptical or hostile towards a presidential promise of federal aid.

A poll released Wednesday by CNN and ORC showed that only 15 percent of Americans trust government to do the right thing “always” or “mostly.” That’s down 10 points from last September.

The level of government trust has shown a steady slide over the last decade, following its peak in the 40s following the 9/11 attacks.

The lack of trust is also reflected in a Pew Research Center survey released Thursday, which showed that 15 percent of independents believe Obama’s administration is doing more to help the “haves,” while 26 percent believe it is doing more to help the “have nots.”

Among Democrats, 10 percent believe the administration is doing more to help the “haves” than the “have nots” while 31 percent said the administration is doing more to help the “have nots.”

Nationally, 48 percent of Americans identify themselves as “haves,” while 34 percent identify themselves as “have nots.” That “have not” percentage has barely changed since 2002.

A Gallup poll released Monday also showed a decline in trust: Forty-three percent of respondents trust in government’s ability to handle domestic problems, down from 83 percent following 9/11.

The same poll showed that 49 percent of people believe the government “poses an immediate threat to the rights and freedoms of ordinary citizens.” That’s up from 44 percent in late 2007, when progressives decried Bush’s anti-terror policies — such as increased use of international wiretaps — as an emerging police state.

The percentage of people who believe the government does not pose a immediate threat has declined to 50 percent, down from 54 percent in late 2007.

In his Benjamin Banneker High School speech, Obama bolstered his promise of government aid by emphasizing current economic pain.

“Some of your families might also be feeling the strain of the economy,” he told students. “As many of you know, we’re going through one of the toughest economic times that we’ve gone through in our lifetime … You might have to pick up an after-school job to help out your family, or maybe you’re babysitting for a younger sibling because mom or dad is working an extra shift,” he said, in an explicit recognition of the recession’s impact on blacks.

Unemployment among black Americans is at least 16 percent, and the leaders of black groups have complained recently that Obama’s government hasn’t done enough for the community, and that fewer African-Americans will turn-out to vote in November 2012.

The students and teachers sitting in Banneker’s second-floor gym welcomed Obama’s promise of aid, and cheered numerous times during his speech. But the enthusiasm across the African-American bloc is clearly waning: Only 58 percent of African-Americans had a “strongly favorable” view of Obama in September, down from 83 percent in March, according to a Washington Post-ABC poll released Sept. 21.