A government is the system by which a state, nation or community is ruled. It makes laws and ensures that people are treated fairly by those laws. It provides stability and goods and services for citizens, and it protects them from outside interference or aggression.
The word “government” is derived from the Latin word for ruler. It is believed that the first governments evolved as people gathered together in larger groups. They needed to protect themselves from wild animals and other people, and they also needed to share resources, such as food, water and shelter. People formed governments so they could control these resources and make decisions about their shared life.
Different governments have different characteristics. People can classify them by who rules, how much power the government has, and how that power is used. Governments can be classified as ones ruled by one person (an autocracy, such as a monarchy), by a small group of people (an aristocracy), or by the majority of a population as a whole (a democracy, such as a republic).
At the local level, government provides things like fire departments and public schools. At the state level, it provides public universities and highways. At the national level, it provides welfare and social security benefits, defense spending and management of national parks and wildlife. Across all levels, government officials try to secure funding for things that benefit those they represent. They do so by levying taxes, which are money paid on income, property and sales. Governments also draft budgets that determine how to spend the funds they collect.
A key principle of democracy is that everyone gets to vote for the leaders who run the government. But this doesn’t mean that all votes are equal. Some votes are more valuable than others, and people who have a lot of influence in the government have greater power than those who don’t. Those with greater power have more influence on the outcome of elections, which can affect people’s lives.
At the same time, most Americans believe that their elected representatives are honest and ethical, and the system of checks and balances keeps politicians in check. In fact, more than half say they trust the federal government to do the right thing most of the time. These are some of the results from Pew Research Center’s latest survey of attitudes about government. (See full tables at the end of this article.) This report updates earlier studies in 2019 and 2017.