While Americans have always viewed institutions and hierarchy with some level of distrust, in recent years that distrust appears to have reached an all-time high. According to an annual Gallup poll, the confidence in 14 key American institutions averaged only 35 percent in 2017 and has averaged only 33 percent over the past three years. This erosion of trust is mirrored in many similar polls spanning several decades.
An institution is typically defined as a social structure or organization that helps to regulate social behaviors. The Gallup poll, for instance, asks respondents about their level of trust in institutions ranging from the military to organized religion to Congress. Pollsters then ask respondents a simple question concerning these institutions: “Please tell me how much confidence you, yourself, have in each [institution] — a great deal, quite a lot, some or very little?” An institution is considered trusted by those who answer “a great deal” or “quite a lot.”
Since 2004, the average confidence level has fallen from 43 percent to 32 percent, with banks, organized religion, the news media and Congress seeing the largest declines. Newspapers and organized religion have sunk to historic lows. In contrast, only the military and police have been able to maintain the confidence of a majority of respondents over the past decade. The decline over the past decade is the largest and most pervasive since Gallup began gathering this type of information in 1973. Read More