The Divide Between Washington and the American People

A new study has found that unelected officials in Washington don’t have much in common with the rest of the country.

It’s no secret that the American public doesn’t think too highly of Washington. Approval ratings of Congress are some of their lowest ever. The president’s approval rating has been moving downward lately. Overall trust in all branches of the federal government are near all time lows.

But as it turns out, the negative feelings may well be mutual. A new study from Johns Hopkins University shows that unelected officials in Washington have very little in common with the majority of Americans. According to the findings:

“Researchers found that the inside-the-Beltway crowd has little in common with America at large. Washington insiders are more likely to be white. They are more educated. Their salaries are higher. They vote more, and have more faith in the fairness of elections. They are probably Democrat and liberal. They more diligently follow the news. And they think the mechanizations of government couldn’t be easier to comprehend.”

The study made one direct reference to the federal workforce as well that many federal employees might find surprising with regards to federal salaries, namely that the average federal worker is in the top 10% of income earners in the country. According to the write up of the results:

“In 2012, federal workers’ compensation averaged $81,704, or 48 percent more than the private sector average of $54,995, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. That salary number puts federal workers in the top 10 percent of American earners.”

Benjamin Ginsberg is a professor of political science and director of the university’s Washington Center for the Study of American Government. He is also one of the study’s lead researchers. Speaking on the results, Ginsberg said, “Official Washington views the public through jaundiced eyes, believing that ordinary Americans are uninformed and misguided and that policymakers should ignore them. The government’s lack of trust in the people reflects the civic distance between the American people and their government as much as any political reality. Nevertheless, what the government thinks of the people affects how it governs, especially the chance that policy will be influenced by citizen preferences.”

He went on to add, “Some say American democracy would be strengthened if the people received better civic education. We argue that it is America’s governing elite that needs civic education, focusing on the responsibilities of officials in a democracy.”

What is your opinion? Is Washington out of touch with the average American? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below.

About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of He has over 20 years of combined experience in media and government services, having worked at two government contracting firms and an online news and web development company prior to his current role at FedSmith.