These days, only one-third of Americans say most people can be trusted. Half felt that way in 1972, when the General Social Survey first asked the question.
An AP-GfK poll conducted last month found that Americans are suspicious of each other in everyday encounters. Less than one-third expressed a lot of trust in clerks who swipe their credit cards, drivers on the road, or people they meet when traveling…
Does it matter than Americans are suspicious of one another? Yes, say worried political and social scientists.
What’s known as “social trust” brings good things…
The decline in the nation’s overall trust quotient was driven by changing attitudes among whites.
This is a well-written story about sociological findings and could serve as a model for others. It covers data over time, contrasts these findings with those showing Americans also trust major institutions less, highlights one of the best national surveys over the decades (the General Social Survey), discusses the consequences of this (possibly political gridlock), hints at important studies (Bowling Alone), brings up the issue that blacks have had less trust consistently since the 1970s but whites now also have less trust, and asks whether anything can be done (trust levels seem to be set at younger ages).
If average citizens don’t trust each other, what exactly might the consequences be? People like Robert Putnam and others have hinted at the big issues involved including a lack of political participation and trust in the political process. How long can you go without much trust before things seriously fracture? In other words, can stronger institutions – government or otherwise – put off the negative effects of less personal trust?