Graduation Year


Date of Submission


Document Type

Campus Only Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts



Reader 1

Emily Pears

Rights Information

© 2017 Lindsey L. Mattila


The United States is experiencing very low levels of trust in the government and in Washington. To the average American, Washington, D.C. seems like a bubble filled with well-off, over-educated citizens who are out of touch with the daily lives of Americans elsewhere in the country. This thesis explores this trend, the severity of it, how often it has occurred thus far in American history, the causes, and potential solutions to bridging the gap between the political elite and the average American.

This paper is broken up into three topics which explain a portion of the cause for the disconnect. The first chapter focuses on the history of Washington, D.C. as a city and how its development has contributed to political disconnect. The second chapter looks at the history and transitions of a congressional career. Lastly, the third chapter explores the history of public perception of government, in order to put today’s low levels of trust into better context.

I ultimately find that the city of Washington used to be a small, quaint city on a hill that was open to all. Now, it is a fortress of power, but much of this was inevitable. In order to compensate for the increasing complexity of governmental tasks, the government added more people and more buildings to take on this problem solving. This inevitably led to a bubble of well-educated and well-off citizens. Similarly, a representative today has many more tasks than the representative a century ago. He also must have many more resources to even get elected. As Washington developed and become a more attractive city as it accumulated power, it drew a new type of citizen. A type that does not look, act, or think like the average American. While these developments led to the disconnect, they were in many ways inevitable.

Based on the chapter on public perception of government, I find that Americans are distrustful of those in office and of the ways that these people use the government, but they still have faith in the political institutions themselves. This shows that there is potential for reform to help Americans feel better represented, and to help the government be more responsive to the average Americans’ most pressing problems. While there are many aspects of Congress that could be modified, the conclusion chapter looks specifically at reforms that are inspired by the input of Americans. This includes reform to political debate and discourse, lobbying, congressional voting, and more.

This thesis is restricted to the Claremont Colleges current faculty, students, and staff.