It's not exactly breaking news that Americans don't hold their government in very high regard. And now, with the release of a new study conducted by Johns Hopkins University, we can confirm that the feeling is mutual.
Political scientists Jennifer Bachner and Benjamin Ginsberg surveyed upwards of 850 federal employees, Congressional staffers, consultants, lobbyists and think tankers—the Beltway insiders who are collectively described as the "policymaking community."
According to Christopher Ingraham, writing over at the Washington Post's Wonkblog:
"The most disturbing finding was that members of Washington policy community have a jaundiced view of ordinary Americans, and they didn't know very much about ordinary Americans either," Ginsberg said.
When asked how much they thought the average American knew about a variety of policy debates, like raising taxes on the rich, warrantless wiretapping, and government's role in healthcare, policymakers most frequently said "very little." [See table below.]
Policymakers aren't wholly unjustified in these assumptions— a 2010 Pew survey, for instance, found that the public knew basic facts about politics and economics, but was murky on the specifics. But a certain degree of responsibility for informing the public on these issues falls to these very policymakers. If the public is uninformed or misinformed, that's at least partly an indictment of Washington's own efforts to educate its constituents.
While we typically think of political America as divided along liberal and conservative lines, these findings suggest the inside/outside Beltway divide is just as important, and potentially more so. In Washington, Democrats and Republicans have much more in common than they let on.
"Democrats and Republicans disagree about things, but they speak the same language. They understand each other perfectly well," Ginsberg says. "They are living in the same cognitive world."