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Cali Owings, Published April 08 2014

Poll shows ND residents have most trust in state government in nation

A new poll shows North Dakotans trust their state government more than residents in any other state trust their governments.

The majority of North Dakotans – 77 percent – say they have “a great deal” or “fair amount” of trust and confidence in the government’s ability to handle state problems, according to a recently released Gallup poll.

North Dakota was followed closely by mostly Midwestern states, with Wyoming at 76 percent, Utah at 75 percent, South Dakota at 74 percent and Nebraska at 73 percent.

Illinois residents are least trusting of their state government. Only 28 percent of its residents say they had a fair amount or great deal of confidence in the state’s leaders. Gallup’s analysis of the poll says the low scores are not surprising given that the last two governors of Illinois are in jail for crimes committed while in office.

Access, performance important

While North Dakotans could just be kind and trusting folks, there are many theories behind residents’ high levels of trust.

North Dakota party leaders said the trust among the state’s residents could come from access and interactions with state officials and public workers.

“If you have a question, you aren’t stuck just talking to staff. You can talk directly to that local official – whether in the office or in a coffee shop or the grocery store,” said Jason Flohrs, executive director of the North Dakota Republican Party. “Not many states get that kind of access to their elected officials that North Dakotans take for granted.”

Similarly, Chad Oban, executive director of the North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party, said there’s a pretty good chance North Dakotans have a friend, family member or neighbor who works for the state.

University of North Dakota political science professor Paul Sum said trust in government at any level is tied to perceptions of performance.

If North Dakota residents have positive perceptions of the state’s performance, they will also trust its leaders more.

Sum said one of the best indicators of good performance is the state’s economy, where North Dakota happens to be doing very well thanks to the oil boom and growth in other sectors such as agriculture and technology.

“It’s not only the oil – you could be cynical and say (state leaders) did not put the oil there,” Sum said. “That resource is being managed by the state’s leaders, and North Dakotans feel generally that the state is benefiting.”

Less jobs, less trust?

Five of the six states with the lowest unemployment rates in the nation, including North Dakota, have trust scores of 73 percent or greater, according to Gallup.

Less-trusting states face times of economic hardship. While corruption may be factor in Illinois residents’ lack of trust, Sum said a portion of it could be attributed to rough economic times; the state is nearing bankruptcy and has the second-highest unemployment rate in the nation. Topping Illinois for unemployment is Rhode Island, which ranks second highest for lack of trust at 40 percent.

In North Dakota, the 21 percent of people who said they did not trust the government very much or not at all might feel like state leaders’ decisions don’t benefit them.

“You do have a significant number of people who are perceiving themselves as being left out of the economic boom,” Sum said.

Roland Riemers, who is running for secretary of state representing the North Dakota Libertarian Party, questioned the basis of North Dakotans’ trust reported in the Gallup poll. He wondered if the state’s leaders are good at covering up problems.

As a libertarian, Riemers said he “has doubts about any form of government,” but it helps that the state Legislature only meets every two years, compared to Minnesota, “where they’re always up to mischief.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Cali Owings at (701) 241-5599