Survey reveals voters’ attitudes Approval ratings drop for officials

By Kevin Lyons

When things are bad in general and the economy is worse, who can voters blame? Elected officials—Bye, George!

The Center for Governmental Studies conducted a state wide survey prior to the election to determine Illinois attitudes toward public officials. The same type of study has been done for eight years and this year’s study showed the lowest ratings ever across the board.

The mood of voters wasn’t only felt in surveys, it was explicitly expressed as voters cast their votes across the state.

Ballot returns spoke for the voters’ moods as Bill Clinton defeated George Bush and Carol Moseley Braun nosed out incumbent Alan Dixon in the primary, although incumbent Rep. Dennis Hastert, R-Yorkville, survived the onslaught.

Ellen Dran, a political scientist at the NIU Center for Governmental Studies, said the Illinois pulse is pretty consistent with the rest of the country.

The survey was conducted by telephone using computer-generated random numbers from all over the state.

Bush’s high approval ratings dropped from 57 percent to 22 percent in one year. The lowest previous presidential rating was 44 percent in 1987.

Congress got a 10 percent high approval rating from the survey compared to 25 percent last year.

“Typically, the legislature is rated less highly than the executive branch. When people get frustrated, it’s easier to point the finger at a large body of officials,” Dran said.

Perhaps the low approval ratings help to explain why voters in 14 states voted in favor of term limits for their public officials.

“These numbers indicate that if we asked about term limits in Illinois, the results probably would have been the same,” Dran said.

The drop in high approval ratings in Illinois was felt at the state level as well, although not quite as drastically as the national level.

“The good news for both (Illinois legislators and Gov. Jim Edgar) is that for the first time they are rated more highly than national officials. The bad news is that’s only because national approval ratings have fallen so far,” Dran said.

Edgar’s high approval rating didn’t really drop significantly, holding off at 34 percent.

“Edgar could still possibly be enjoying a honeymoon period,” Dran said, indicating that former Gov. Jim Thompson’s ratings didn’t drop that much early on.

“It could also be that all the frustration is being directed at national leaders,” she said.

The state legislature’s high approval ratings have been dropping pretty steadily over the past few years and this year was no exception—14 percent.

Illinois residents surveyed were asked a number of other questions dealing with government such as what they see as the largest problem in Illinois. Twenty-five percent said they think unemployment is the biggest problem, followed by about 17 percent who said education is the vital issue facing the state