Who Do You Trust? Confidence in US Institutions Scrapes Bottom
Policy + Politics

Who Do You Trust? Confidence in US Institutions Scrapes Bottom

Flickr/C.M. Keiner

A decade of financial crisis and political strife has seriously eroded Americans’ confidence in major institutions, especially the banking industry, the government and the news media, according to a new study.

While the public continues to voice confidence in the military and to a lesser degree the police, fewer than one in 10 say they respect Congress and little more than a third have high regard for the presidency and the Supreme Court, according to the Gallup survey released on Monday.

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Public confidence in the banking industry has cratered the most in the wake of the housing bubble and financial meltdown in 2008, tumbling from a 49 percent approval rating in 2006 to just 27 percent this month. Just 9 percent say they have confidence in Congress, which has been torn apart for years by partisan warfare over Obamacare and a raft of other hot-button issues.

At the same time, Americans appear to be losing confidence in news organization responsible for informing the public about critical events and trends. Public confidence in both newspapers and television has dropped 10 percentage points in a decade to roughly 20 percent for each.

The overall average of Americans expressing a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in 14 major institutions is below 33 percent for the third consecutive year, according to the survey. Public skepticism and frustration extends as well to organized religion, the health care system, labor unions and big business. Ratings for all of those institutions has remained relatively low since 2007.

“Even as Americans regain confidence in the economy and are no longer in the depths of dissatisfaction with the way things are going in the nation, they remain reluctant to put much faith in these institutions at the core of American society,” the survey summary states.

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Although the Gallup study doesn’t provide easy explanations for these trends, they have coincided with a decade of partisan gridlock on Capitol Hill, the 2013 government shutdown, a surge in liberal Democratic attacks on Wall Street and big banks like Goldman Sachs once deemed “too big to fail” and, most recently, a bruising presidential campaign filled with hot political rhetoric.

The banking industry in particular has come under assault from progressives led by Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, the Democratic presidential candidate, and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), who have called for the breakup of the largest U.S. banks and a tightening of federal controls on their investment practices. At the same time, Donald Trump, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and other Republicans who sought the GOP presidential nomination this year routinely bashed the news media for liberal bias and inaccurate reporting.

Despite the general decline in public confidence in most major institutions, Americans have at least “some” regard for most of them -- except Congress. The past decade on Capitol Hill has been marred by brutal battles between the Obama administration and congressional Republicans over health care, defense spending, taxes, the national debt, trade and a raft of other controversies that at times have left the government paralyzed. Republicans are desperately attempting to retain control of both chambers, but the Democrats have a chance this fall of taking back the Senate and putting a major dent in the GOP majority in the House.

“Congress has the ignominious distinction of being the only institution sparking little or no confidence in a majority of Americans,” Gallup concluded.

The poll was based on telephone interviews with 1,027 adults conducted June 1-5.