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Zaleski: Trusting, happy and satisfied: Really?

Two surveys by the Gallup organization go a long way to explain North Dakotans’ satisfaction with what some might define as the status quo. The results also suggest that the majority political class in the state can rest easy as election time nears.

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Gallup found that 77 percent of those polled trust state government. Yes, you read that right. It’s the highest level of confidence in government of any state. That’s an extraordinary statistic, especially given the general tenor of national news that stresses alleged distrust of governments at all levels.

The second Gallup poll found that nearly 90 percent of North Dakotans gave their public schools high marks. That’s amazing, again when contrasted with the drumbeat on the national stage that proclaims “government” schools are failures because of teacher unions, “liberal” curricula and prayer bans.

A few months ago another survey said North Dakotans are the happiest people in the nation. Even in winter.

North Dakotans see government and schools in a positive light likely because state and local governments and schools show mostly good results. Citizen involvement is high. For the most part, elected local and state officials are accessible and responsive.

The Gallup findings have political ramifications. Satisfied voters don’t throw the rascals out. If voters believe schools are good and government at all levels is providing what it’s supposed to, incumbents are not at risk. State and local election results confirm as much. Challengers have a tough time making a case to change horses when the wagons are bumping along in the right direction.

In the rare instance when an incumbent is tossed out, it’s usually a specific circumstance, not general anger with a city commission or school board. The same is true of legislative contests. North Dakota’s Legislature has a Republican super-majority because most voters (and it crosses party lines) believe the state in on the right course.

It all means that Democratic candidates are up against sentiments that militate against significant change in the political mix at the Legislature. The Gallup polls also suggest local elections in cities like Fargo won’t see wholesale rejection of incumbent city commissioners or school board members. There will be change, of course, because a few incumbents are not seeking re-election, or election matchups mean a couple of incumbents might not return to office. But those situations will not signal a change in the policies and programs that garner high levels of approval of government and schools.

To be sure, chronically unhappy gadflies and those who are ideologically disposed to assume all government is corrupt will continue to tilt at windmills. But as obvious slow learners, they might want to sign in to one of the schools of which they are so dismissive. Or maybe run for a legislative spot, and show ’em how to do it better. Oh, wait. They would have to get elected first, and the Gallup polls suggest that ain’t gonna happen.

Zaleski is the opinion page editor of The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, which is a part of Forum News Service. Email him at