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In Southern Maryland, residents have mixed feelings about the federal government’s ability to serve the people, according to the results of the newest Pulse of Southern Maryland survey.

Volunteers from the College of Southern Maryland conducted the survey in early November. Rather than focusing on one area specifically, 277 participants were polled regarding their trust in the government, feelings on the economy and Affordable Care Act and concerns about the country’s future.

Of those surveyed, when asked if they felt the economy was better or worse than it was this time a year ago, 52.9 percent said they felt it was faring worse, and 33.3 percent of people considered it to be doing better. However, 48 percent of respondents said they are not doing better economically than they were at a year ago.

When asked about their confidence and trust in the federal government, 53 percent of people said they had little to no trust, and 47 percent said they had a great or fair amount of trust. Seventy-three percent of respondents feel the government can adequately protect the nation from future terrorist attacks, and 56 percent said they had concerns regarding governmental invasion of personal privacy.

Of those surveyed, 57 percent of people said they are employed. The employed crowd has concerns about benefit reduction, with 60 percent saying they were extremely, moderately or somewhat concerned by this. Regarding wage reduction, 56 percent were unconcerned, and 68 percent did not have trepidation about being laid off.

When asked what effect the ACA would have on them personally, 55 percent couldn’t say, and 31 percent felt it would be detrimental.

Forty-six percent of respondents said they are gun owners. Feelings regarding gun laws in Maryland were mixed, with 38 percent of people saying restrictions should be tightened, 30 percent favoring less restrictive laws and 32 percent in favor of leaving them as they are.

St. Mary’s College of Maryland professor Todd Eberly said as far as the economy questions are concerned, public opinion generally lags behind the reality of the situation.

“It takes a while to change the tenor of the conversation,” Eberly said, adding that although there has been an uptick in the economy, it has been relatively slight. “We often see the indicators that things are going to go bad before we feel that.”

Eberly said the economy’s recovery generally has been “weak.” However, compared to the rest of the nation, Maryland fared decently during the recession. He said the amount of time it will take public opinion to reflect the changing situation directly depends upon the strength of the trends.

“Right now, we have this spotty job creation record,” Eberly said. “It’s determined by strength, and because this recovery is a weak one, this will take a while.”

Eberly also said the effects of federal budget cuts known as sequestration and the government shutdowns last fall “tie in down here pretty solidly” with public perception.

“You can have people in an area that’s otherwise doing well and still think it’s worse,” Eberly said.

Regarding trust in the government, Eberly said because of the military presence in the area and resulting familial ties to the country’s defenders, many people might factor that in when they consider their trust in the government, rather than just thinking of the executive, legislative and judiciary branches.

“I’m kind of surprised that the level of trust was as high as it was,” Eberly said. “We’re living in an era where it’s been at historic lows.”

Arthur Viterito, a professor at the College of Southern Maryland, said he’d be interested to see what the poll results would be like if it were taken now, especially where the question regarding the ACA is concerned. When the survey was being conducted, Viterito said, the ACA’s introduction still was very recent.

“I think the perception might have changed on that one,” Viterito said of the ACA.

Viterito spoke of his cousin, who manages a cardiologist’s office in New York. In November, he said, the office received a letter from United Healthcare saying that they no longer would include that office in their network of accepted providers. That reduced the office’s amount of patients by 30 percent, Viterito said.

Viterito said that anecdote is evidence of future cuts in care to come and the ACA and President Barack Obama’s goal of putting the country on a single-payer system.

“What a lot of people don’t realize is that $714 billion in funding has been taken away from Medicare under the act,” Viterito said. “What’s going to happen down the line is that doctors will get reimbursed for taking on Medicare patients at the same rate as they do Medicaid patients, and a lot of doctors won’t see Medicaid patients because of how long it takes to get reimbursed. I think there are going to be some fairly dire consequences. That’s why I think the ACA question would get a different reaction today.”

Viterito said he felt that if asked now, many of the unsure respondents would say the ACA is going to make their personal situation worse.

About the survey

The Pulse of Southern Maryland fall 2013 survey by the College of Southern Maryland was conducted by phone Nov. 6-7 and 12-14. Volunteers who conducted the survey made 277 successful phone calls. Participants were randomly selected from the phone book.

The survey drew 11.2 percent of its participants from Calvert County, 51.3 from Charles County and 37.5 from St. Mary’s County. The poll had a 5.9 percent margin of error overall. There was a 10.1 margin for men and 7.5 for women.