Gallup pollsters say 76% of Wyoming voters “trust” their state government. “I was pleased to see this poll, which I believe is a compliment to those in state government and to the Legislature,” Governor Matt Mead said.
The poll left me wondering how the words “trust” and “state government” were defined. Gallup failed to provide a definition. Pollsters lumped state employees in with legislators, judges, and state elected officials. People who were surveyed apparently relied on their own internal definition, leaving open the question of what it really means to “trust” state government? Who were they picturing in their mind as they responded?
There’s a problem with asking a question like, “Do you trust your state government?” The term refers to a number of people and institutions. Were the respondents thinking of Cindy Hill, the lawmakers who are investigating her, or the Supreme Court that, on a 3-2 vote, overturned the “Hill-bill”?
Were they thinking of the governor who decided that making a partisan political statement about Barack Obama was more important than providing healthcare to 18,000 of his constituents? Were they talking about legislators who voted to deprive workers of their vacation pay or those who covertly tack last minute amendments to the budget bill without public input?
Then there is the problem of the meaning of “trust.” The dictionary definition is “confidence in and reliance on good qualities, especially fairness, truth, honor, or ability.” The problem with an English word like “trust” is that it’s definition is in the eyes of the beholder.
The Ancient Hebrew Research Center says, “The English word "trust" is an abstract (cannot be sensed by the five senses), but Hebrew is a concrete oriented language where each word is associated with something that can be sensed by one or more of the five senses. Each of these Hebrew words has their own nuance of meaning that can aid in interpreting the passages they are found in.”
The Hebrew word “aman,” for example, means “to be firm" Aman describes “trust” as “when setting up a tent you always choose "firm" soil to drive in your tent pegs so that when the wind blows, the tent pegs won’t be pulled out of the ground collapsing your tent.” That’s trust.
Surly, uninsured families would never trust the soil underneath the Capitol building to keep their tents from collapsing.
New Testament Greek at times uses “paratithemi” meaning to entrust someone to the care or protection of another. Other Biblical uses of Hebrew or Greek words for “trust” have connotations of justice and fairness.
There’s another anomaly. With a regularity that can be trusted, letters-to-the-editor appear almost daily in this and other newspapers dripping with venom over issues like the Cindy Hill dispute and a variety of other actions or non-actions of the governor or the legislature. Wyoming people are notoriously distrustful of government regulation. They cheer loudly when the old Ronald Reagan quote is dredged up. “Government is not the solution. Government is the problem.”
Anti-government sentiment is especially common in smaller, more rural states. Yet the Gallup poll found the reverse. The average trust rating was 11% higher among the 10 lowest populated states than among the 10 most populous. Go figure.
Not surprisingly, Illinois was at the bottom of the list. But then, since the 1960s, four of their governors have spent more time in prison than in public office. They failed anyone’s definition of “trust.”
So perhaps that is what the 600 Wyomingites had in mind when they answered the question, “Do you have trust in your state government?” No one is sitting in a jail cell. Nobody is walking out the back door with pockets full of public funds. And if the respondents were thinking of the average state employee, they’d be right in expressing the highest level of trust.
However, the 76% trust level seems out of whack if the term is defined to include elements of fairness and justice when applied to the governor and the legislature.