Suzanne Mettler wrote an article (PDF) examining public perceptions about governmental programs.
This chart pretty much speaks for itself. This is the major problem of our time for our government. The problem isn’t that the government provides services that cost too much — the problem is the government provides services that work well and stay out of the way so much people don’t realize they are even using a government service. Even if they understood that, a deeper problem remains:
Reconstituting the submerged state has been doubly difﬁcult because while the stakes have been highly apparent to
the groups that have beneﬁtted from them, they were not
very visible to most Americans. Most people perceived only
the market at work: they have little awareness that many
social beneﬁts they receive emanate from a submerged state
that is structured by public policy and subsidized by government. Neither do they realize that many such policies
disproportionately beneﬁt wealthy citizens.They are unlikely
to know the extent to which government policy promotes
the proﬁtability of some industries by offsetting their costs
in serving citizens, whether as consumers or borrowers.The
functioning and effects ofthe submerged state remain murky,
if not largely hidden, to most citizens.
via Boing Boing