There was a very informative article by Jon Cohen and Dan Balz in yesterday’s Washington Post entitled Beyond the tea party: What Americans really think of government.  The article dissects and discusses a new study by the Washington Post, the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation and Harvard University.  My takeaways from the story are several.  First, that there is a vast gap in the perceptions of Liberal Democrats and Conservative Republicans toward the role of government.  A graphic that I found interesting in this regard from the story is one comparing the views of various groups (Liberal Democrats to Tea Party strong supporters) toward Government Services and whether they favored “Fewer services/lower taxes” or “More services/higher taxes”.

What’s revealed in the graphic is a pretty sharp partisan split.  That’s too bad for America, especially as the two parties appear to listen more ardently to their respective fringes.  Those of us in the middle who want significant, but limited, government aren’t represented well by either party in today’s America.  It is all or nothing.

A second takeaway from the story is the survey’s revelation that Americans give their government a relatively low report card.  The story discusses this in much more detail.

Finally, I was interested but not surprised to learn that Americans really don’t understand the complexity of issues facing this country, for instance toward balancing the federal budget.  Here’s an excerpt from the article:

One challenge for policymakers is that half the country thinks the federal government can balance its budget by simply cutting wasteful spending. In fact, eliminating waste in the budget would do very little to bring down the size of the deficit. Nearly as many say they think some useful programs will have to go to bring the deficit under control, but the number saying so has slipped since the mid-1990s.

The bottom line is Americans really don’t understand the scale of the problem, suggesting that politicians need to start explaining the problem to the public rather than simply pointing their partisan fingers at the other party.

As one who believes strongly in the need for a viable third party in this country to challenge the existing two party duopoly, I note that the article also observed that “just over half” of survey respondents said that “government in Washington [would] work better” if electoral laws were eased “to make it easier for third parties to compete with Democrats and Republicans.”

For those interested, Dan Balz also penned another piece in Sunday‘s Washington Post based on the above-referenced survey.  For those wanting to read more, it is entitled Tea Party fuels GOP midterm enthusiasm, action.