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February 11, 2021

Were citizens satisfied in the Trump administration’s final year?

David Vanamburg

Satisfaction with the U.S. federal government is less than ideal – again.

Following a 1.2% decline last year, citizen satisfaction stumbles once more, dropping 4.4% to an ACSI score of 65.1 (out of 100), per our latest Federal Government Report. Citizen satisfaction has now fallen for the third straight year, sinking to its lowest score in five years.

Any way you slice it, this has been a weird year for the government. While it’s fair to wonder if this drop is a direct admonishment of the Trump administration – the run-up to the November elections was combative and the post-election period was a powder keg that exploded in a most unforeseen way – it’s important to remember what this report actually looks at.

So, let’s get into it.

What’s driving citizen satisfaction?

We can’t stress this enough: Our Federal Government Report looks at the satisfaction of individuals who’ve had direct contact and dealings with the government.

It’s not about political affiliation. It’s not about the administration. It’s not about Congress. It’s about the government officials who provide day-to-day services.

We measure four primary drivers of citizen satisfaction – process, information, customer service, and website – and they reflect the most pertinent performance areas of government agencies and services. This year, none improved.

The efficiency and ease of government processes dropped 3% to 66, the ease of accessing and clarity of information backpedaled 3% to 69, and the perceptions of government website quality plummeted 5% to 71. In the end, only the customer service score stood firm, unchanged at 74 – the highest of the four drivers.

As the report notes: “These changes reflect a broad and deep erosion of the quality of federal government services experienced by citizens in 2020.”

Did the pandemic impact federal government satisfaction?

It’s very likely the pandemic impacted citizen satisfaction in the federal government.

How much? It’s hard to say. However, just under 1,300 individuals were surveyed this year, and because of COVID-19, there were a smaller number of distinct federal departments captured in this year’s report.

Of those, only the Departments of Commerce (74) and Agriculture (74) scored comparably to the economy-wide national ACSI average (74.4 as of Q3 2020). The former is down from last year (75 in 2019), while the latter is up from 70.

The remaining departments scored considerably lower than the national ACSI average. The Department of Health and Human Services was third at 65, followed by the Department of Justice at 64. The Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration tied at 63, and the Treasury Department finished last with an ACSI score of 60.

Another down year for citizen satisfaction in the federal government

For three consecutive years, citizens have been less satisfied with the federal government. Thanks to the decrease in 2020, this score is the lowest it’s been since 2015.

Yet, for all the malaise with politics, the general decline across the board cannot necessarily be attributed to the Trump administration. COVID-19, however, kept people away, limiting the number of interactions with – and services received from – the federal government.

Still, it’s clear that individuals who did deal with the federal government in 2020 were not satisfied. Here’s to hoping they have a better experience in 2021.

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