As President Joe Biden and the new Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives face off over the debt ceiling and government spending, more Americans say they have favorable than unfavorable opinions of many agencies and departments of the federal government.
Americans view 14 of 16 federal agencies more favorably than unfavorably, according to a survey of 10,701 adults conducted March 13-19 by Pew Research Center. Of those 14 agencies, 11 have net favorable ratings of 15 points or more.
Topping the list are the National Park Service (81% favorable), the U.S. Postal Service (77%) and NASA (74%). Smaller majorities have favorable impressions of other agencies, including the Social Security Administration (61% favorable) and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS, 55%).
Americans have mixed views of the Department of Education (45% favorable, 47% unfavorable) and the Federal Reserve (43% favorable, 37% unfavorable, 20% unsure). The least popular federal agency of the 16 asked about is the IRS. About half of Americans (51%) have an unfavorable opinion of this agency, while 42% have a favorable view.
Pew Research Center regularly conducts surveys to gauge the public’s attitudes about the federal government, including government agencies and departments. For this analysis, we surveyed 10,701 adults from March 13-19, 2023. Everyone who took part in this survey is a member of the Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel that is recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. This way nearly all U.S. adults have a chance of selection. The survey is weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories. Read more about the ATP’s methodology.
Here are the questions used for the analysis and its methodology.
Agencies viewed favorably in this online survey were also among the most favorably viewed in past Pew Research Center surveys conducted by telephone. However, because of differences in survey mode and question wording, the specific percentages from past telephone surveys and this web survey are not directly comparable. (Refer to the drop-down box below for more details.)
This survey is the first time Pew Research Center has measured the public’s attitudes about federal government agencies on our online American Trends Panel. Previous surveys measuring views of federal agencies were conducted by telephone.
The findings in the current survey are not directly comparable with those past surveys for two reasons:
1. This survey uses different question wording than past telephone surveys. Telephone respondents had to volunteer that they did not have an opinion about an agency, while online survey respondents receive an explicit “not sure” response option. This generally results in a larger share of respondents declining to offer an opinion.
2. Surveys conducted by telephone or online often produce different results because respondents at times answer similar questions differently across modes. This is called a “mode effect.”
These two factors mean that point estimates (for instance, the share of respondents expressing a favorable opinion about a single agency between this survey and a prior phone survey) should not be directly compared to measure change over time, as the differences between the two would conflate mode and question wording differences with change over time. Despite this, some broad comparisons can be made: For example, if a wide partisan gap is evident for one agency that was not apparent in past surveys, whereas the partisan gap is relatively stable for other agencies, that change is likely not only a result of the transition from telephone to online polling.
Republicans have mostly negative views of the CDC, Department of Education
There are wide partisan gaps in Americans’ views of federal agencies. Democrats and those who lean toward the Democratic Party hold consistently favorable views of all 16 agencies asked about, while Republicans and those who lean toward the Republican Party express more unfavorable than favorable views for 10 of the agencies.
The partisan divisions in favorability are deepest for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC (80% favorable among Democrats vs. 31% among Republicans); the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA (74% vs. 36%); and the Department of Education (62% vs. 29%). Republicans’ and Democrats’ views are also deeply divided over the Department of Transportation, HHS, the FBI, the IRS, the Federal Reserve and other agencies.
In contrast, there is more partisan agreement on the Department of Veterans Affairs (56% favorable among Republicans vs. 57% among Democrats); the National Park Service (81% vs. 84%); the Postal Service (73% vs. 82%); and NASA (71% vs. 79%). Among Democrats, the CDC and EPA receive some of the highest net favorability ratings. Eight-in-ten Democrats give a favorable rating to the CDC compared with 15% who see the agency unfavorably – for a 65 percentage point net advantage. For the EPA, 74% of Democrats see the agency favorably – 62 points more than the share who see it unfavorably. Democrats view the IRS least favorably of the 16 federal agencies: They are only 13 percentage points more likely to view it favorably than unfavorably (53% vs. 40%).
Republicans are much less favorable toward most federal agencies than Democrats. However, the agencies that Republicans feel most favorably toward are the National Park Service (72-point net favorability), NASA (58 points) and the Postal Service (48 points).
While it is not possible to make direct percentage point comparisons to past surveys due to a shift in survey mode, Republicans have substantially more negative than positive views of a majority of the agencies today than in the past.
Republicans’ negative opinions of the CDC, in particular, appear to reflect a shift since the early days of the coronavirus outbreak. Past Pew Research Center surveys have shown that Republicans have been especially critical of the CDC’s handling of the virus. Last September, just 32% of Republicans said that public health officials such as those at the CDC had done an excellent or good job in responding to the COVID-19 outbreak, compared with 73% of Democrats. In March 2020, at the start of the pandemic, large majorities of Republicans (84%) and Democrats (74%) had expressed positive views of the CDC’s performance.
Note: Here are the questions used for the analysis and its methodology.