The Government-Citizen Disconnect

Russell Sage Foundation
Free sample

Americans’ relationship to the federal government is paradoxical. Polls show that public opinion regarding the government has plummeted to all-time lows, with only one in five saying they trust the government or believe that it operates in their interest. Yet, at the same time, more Americans than ever benefit from some form of government social provision. Political scientist Suzanne Mettler calls this growing gulf between people’s perceptions of government and the actual role it plays in their lives the "government-citizen disconnect." In The Government-Citizen Disconnect, she explores the rise of this phenomenon and its implications for policymaking and politics.

Drawing from original survey data which probed Americans’ experiences of 21 federal social policies -- such as food stamps, Social Security, Medicaid, and the home mortgage interest deduction -- Mettler shows that 96 percent of adults have received benefits from at least one of them, and that the average person has utilized five. Overall usage rates transcend social, economic, and political divisions, and most Americans report positive experiences of their policy experiences. However, the fact that they have benefited from these policies has little positive effect on people’s attitudes toward government. Mettler finds that shared identities and group affiliations, as well as ideological forces, are more powerful and consistent influences. In particular, those who oppose welfare tend to extrapolate their unfavorable views of it to government in general. Deep antipathy toward the government has emerged as the result of a conservative movement that has waged a war on social welfare policies for over forty years, even as economic inequality and benefit use have increased.

Mettler finds that voting patterns exacerbate the government-citizen disconnect, as those holding positive views of federal programs and supporting expanded benefits have lower rates of political participation than those holding more hostile views of the government. As a result, the loudest political voice belongs to those who have benefited from policies but who give government little credit for their economic well-being, seeing their success more as a matter of their own deservingness. This contributes to the election of politicians who advocate cutting federal social programs. According to Mettler, the government-citizen disconnect frays the bonds of representative government and democracy.

The Government-Citizen Disconnect illuminates a paradox that increasingly shapes American politics. Mettler's examination of hostility toward government at a time when most Americans will at some point rely on the social benefits it provides helps us better understand the roots of today's fractious political climate.

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About the author

Suzanne Mettler is the Clinton Rossiter Professor of American Institutions at Cornell University.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Russell Sage Foundation
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Published on
Jul 3, 2018
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Pages
259
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ISBN
9781610448727
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Language
English
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Genres
Political Science / American Government / General
Political Science / General
Political Science / Public Policy / Social Policy
Political Science / Public Policy / Social Services & Welfare
Social Science / Research
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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“Keep your government hands off my Medicare!” Such comments spotlight a central question animating Suzanne Mettler’s provocative and timely book: why are many Americans unaware of government social benefits and so hostile to them in principle, even though they receive them? The Obama administration has been roundly criticized for its inability to convey how much it has accomplished for ordinary citizens. Mettler argues that this difficulty is not merely a failure of communication; rather it is endemic to the formidable presence of the “submerged state.”

In recent decades, federal policymakers have increasingly shunned the outright disbursing of benefits to individuals and families and favored instead less visible and more indirect incentives and subsidies, from tax breaks to payments for services to private companies. These submerged policies, Mettler shows, obscure the role of government and exaggerate that of the market. As a result, citizens are unaware not only of the benefits they receive, but of the massive advantages given to powerful interests, such as insurance companies and the financial industry. Neither do they realize that the policies of the submerged state shower their largest benefits on the most affluent Americans, exacerbating inequality. Mettler analyzes three Obama reforms—student aid, tax relief, and health care—to reveal the submerged state and its consequences, demonstrating how structurally difficult it is to enact policy reforms and even to obtain public recognition for achieving them. She concludes with recommendations for reform to help make hidden policies more visible and governance more comprehensible to all Americans.

The sad truth is that many American citizens do not know how major social programs work—or even whether they benefit from them. Suzanne Mettler’s important new book will bring government policies back to the surface and encourage citizens to reclaim their voice in the political process.
Winner of the NBCC Award for General Nonfiction

Named on Amazon's Best Books of the Year 2015--Michael Botticelli, U.S. Drug Czar (Politico) Favorite Book of the Year--Angus Deaton, Nobel Prize Economics (Bloomberg/WSJ) Best Books of 2015--Matt Bevin, Governor of Kentucky (WSJ) Books of the Year--Slate.com's 10 Best Books of 2015--Entertainment Weekly's 10 Best Books of 2015 --Buzzfeed's 19 Best Nonfiction Books of 2015--The Daily Beast's Best Big Idea Books of 2015--Seattle Times' Best Books of 2015--Boston Globe's Best Books of 2015--St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Best Books of 2015--The Guardian's The Best Book We Read All Year--Audible's Best Books of 2015--Texas Observer's Five Books We Loved in 2015--Chicago Public Library's Best Nonfiction Books of 2015

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In 1929, in the blue-collar city of Portsmouth, Ohio, a company built a swimming pool the size of a football field; named Dreamland, it became the vital center of the community. Now, addiction has devastated Portsmouth, as it has hundreds of small rural towns and suburbs across America--addiction like no other the country has ever faced. How that happened is the riveting story of Dreamland.

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Until the 1970s, the United States had a proud history of promoting higher education for its citizens. The Morrill Act, the G.I. Bill and Pell Grants enabled Americans from across the income spectrum to attend college and the nation led the world in the percentage of young adults with baccalaureate degrees. Yet since 1980, progress has stalled. Young adults from low to middle income families are not much more likely to graduate from college than four decades ago. When less advantaged students do attend, they are largely sequestered into inferior and often profit-driven institutions, from which many emerge without degrees and shouldering crushing levels of debt.

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NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

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She wrote the true stories that weren't being told: the stories of overworked and underpaid Americans. Of living on food stamps and WIC (Women, Infants, and Children) coupons to eat. Of the government programs that provided her housing, but that doubled as halfway houses. The aloof government employees who called her lucky for receiving assistance while she didn't feel lucky at all. She wrote to remember the fight, to eventually cut through the deep-rooted stigmas of the working poor.

Maid explores the underbelly of upper-middle class America and the reality of what it's like to be in service to them. "I'd become a nameless ghost," Stephanie writes about her relationship with her clients, many of whom do not know her from any other cleaner, but who she learns plenty about. As she begins to discover more about her clients' lives-their sadness and love, too-she begins to find hope in her own path.

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