Slight uptick in Americans’ confidence in institutions

The latest results from Gallup suggest the slide in institutional confidence in America has ended:

Americans’ confidence in the nation’s major institutions has edged up in 2017, after registering historical lows over the past three years. Newspapers, public schools and organized labor, in particular, have improved in public esteem. The average percentage of Americans expressing “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in 14 institutions is at 35%, up from 31% in 2014 and 32% in 2015 and 2016…

First, the uptick in Republicans’ average confidence resulting from the election of President Trump was not offset by a decrease in confidence among Democrats, leaving the population, as a whole, more confident than in previous years.

Second, despite this increased confidence, Americans are still skeptical of most of the major institutions that make up U.S. society. Major institutions have an average 35% “great deal/quite a lot” confidence rating overall, and only three institutions garner a confidence rating above 50%. Major institutions such as big business, the criminal justice system and banks get high confidence ratings from less than one-third of the public.

Finally, the dismal level of public confidence in Congress — with 12% of Americans saying they have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in the nation’s legislative body and 44% saying they have very little confidence — highlights what Americans themselves say is the nation’s most important problem: a dysfunctional government that has lost much of its legitimacy in the eyes of the people it serves.

While the numbers are slightly up in 2017, the summary suggests not a whole lot has changed outside of which party controls the presidency. Overall, Americans are pretty skeptical about most major institutions though their dissatisfaction might be the result of different reasons. At the least, this data may suggest confidence has bottomed out.

This is also another example of why longitudinal data is so helpful. If this was data from a single time point, it is hard to know what it means: is this more or less confidence than normal? How do certain events change the responses? But, with data regarding confidence in 14 institutions since 1993, we can see patterns: upward and downward swings over years, shifts due to social changes like a burst housing bubble, comparisons across very different institutions.

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