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Majority of Americans feel ‘forgotten’ by government

A person in Detroit walks past the remains of the Packard Motor Car Co., which ceased production in the late 1950s. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

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Do you think the government in Washington generally represents your interests, or has the government forgotten about “people like you?” That was the new question we asked in our latest Marketplace-Edison Research Poll. 

Despite greater confidence about their economic futures, a whopping three-quarters of our respondents feel overlooked by Washington. 

“We’re the forgotten Americans. We’re swept under the rug,” said Glen Perkins, 60, an African-American truck driver in La Vergne, Tennessee, who participated in our poll.

To feel less “forgotten,” Perkins said he would want to see the federal government address African-Americans’ high unemployment rates and invest more in public schools. He said the charter schools and vouchers championed by Education Secretary Betsy DeVos won’t serve the needs of black families.

“To make a change, they’re going to have to specifically say there is a problem going on in black America.” 

Perkins, a Democrat, didn’t vote for President Trump. But even respondents who did help elect the president expressed the feeling that Washington doesn’t look after their interests. 

“Well, not very well,” is how Fred Cousins, 80, of Fort Smith, Arkansas, described how his interests are represented.

Cousins, a former furniture manufacturer, said he likes Trump’s focus on thwarting the offshoring of jobs. And he admires Trump’s appointees, especially Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch. But Cousins nevertheless expressed cynicism about Washington politicians. 

“They speak one way and dance another,” he said. “And will they perform? Who knows.”

“Feeling forgotten” is just another way to express Americans’ deep-seated distrust toward the federal government, according to Steven Smith, a political scientist at Washington University in St. Louis. 

“There is a great deal of frustration with Washington, and virtually every poll — no matter what question is asked — shows that,” he said.

Smith said surveys show public trust in the federal government has been falling for decades, with a few periods of temporary improvement. He said the distrust is linked to the sense that politicians — liberals and conservatives alike — are unable to compromise on issues like health care.

“Instead what we see is the scoring of political points against each other,” he said. “That breeds frustration on the part of everyone. It leads to very low ratings for the president and even lower ratings for Congress. Both sides dislike Congress.”

But there are ways for citizens to deal with their frustrations and feelings of being forgotten, according to UC Berkeley emerita sociologist Arlie Hochschild. She’s written about Tea Party loyalists’ sense of disenfranchisement in rural Louisiana in her book “Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right.” She had this advice for voters:

“I think it’s very important for citizens to get active and go to town meetings,” she said. “In other words, try to get seen.”

The more that happens, she said, the less forgotten people will be.

Take our economic anxiety quiz to see how you compare to the national average.

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