A Vote of Renewed Confidence: How Americans View Presidential Appointees and Government in the Wake of the September 11 Terrorist Attacks

Light, P.C. & Labiner, J.M.
Presidential Appointee Initiative, The Brookings Institution,

Thomas Jefferson had a great deal on his mind as he prepared for his first term as president, not the least of which was the brutal contest that led to his election after 34 ballots in the House of Representatives. Beset by civil unrest at home and threatened from abroad, the nation was fighting for its very survival. Yet, as Jefferson mused about the challenges ahead, he worried most about building an administration whose talents, integrity, names and dispositions, should at once inspire unbounded confidence in the public mind and insure a perfect harmony in the conduct of the public business.

Two hundred years later, there is ample evidence that a president's appointments still have the power to inspire unbounded confidence in the public mind. Confidence in presidential appointees surged dramatically in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, and now exceeds confidence in elected federal officials such as members of Congress and federal government workers. The evidence comes from comparing the results of a new nationwide, representative telephone survey of 1,033 adults living in the continental United States with the results of a parallel survey conducted during the summer. Both surveys were conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates for The Presidential Appointee Initiative, a nonpartisan project of the Brookings Institution funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts. The first survey was conducted between June 18 and July 18, 2001 and the second one was conducted between September 27 and October 6, 2001. For results based on the total sample of either survey, one can say with 95 percent confidence that the error attributable to sampling and other random effects is within approximately plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Wagner Faculty