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Trust Differs Most by Ideology for Church, Police, Presidency

Trust Differs Most by Ideology for Church, Police, Presidency

Story Highlights

  • Conservatives' and liberals' trust differs for most key institutions
  • Conservatives much more likely to trust the church and the police
  • Liberals far more likely to have confidence in the presidency

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- In the U.S., liberals and conservatives report markedly different levels of confidence in nearly every key institution Gallup measures, reflecting the general polarization that typifies the country today. The confidence gap -- the difference between groups in levels of confidence for a particular institution -- is largest for the presidency (by 36 percentage points), followed by the church (27 points) and the police (26 points). Liberals have more confidence in the presidency, while conservatives are more likely to trust the church and the police.

Confidence in U.S. Institutions, by Ideology

While most institutions elicit sizable gaps in confidence among liberals and conservatives, Congress and TV news, both lowly regarded institutions, generate similar levels of confidence. Conversely, the military and small business are held in high esteem by large segments of liberals and conservatives.

These results are based on a June 2-7 Gallup poll that included Gallup's latest update on Americans' confidence in 15 U.S. institutions.

Overall, confidence in most major U.S. institutions continues to linger well below historical norms, suggesting that Americans' dissatisfaction with the central organizations of society is not confined to one political philosophy or viewpoint. But given that ideology represents an individual's values and beliefs, it makes sense that those with different ideological views have more confidence in some institutions than others. These findings shed light on the underlying structure of U.S. society today.

Although the survey question does not name a specific individual, but instead asks about the institution of the presidency, it appears that the incumbent president influences confidence in the institution. Liberals express more confidence in years when a Democrat is president, as is the case now, and conservatives find the presidency more trustworthy when a Republican is in the Oval Office.

Confidence in the Presidency, by Ideology: Recent Trends

Conservatives More Confident Than Liberals in Police, Church

Clear majorities of conservatives say they have "a great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in the police and in the church, while minorities of liberals say the same. The gap between liberals' and conservatives' confidence in the police grew larger this year, most likely reflecting different reactions to several high-profile situations involving police actions, such as events in Ferguson, Missouri, and Staten Island, New York.

Confidence in the Police, by Ideology: Recent Trends

While conservatives remain much more confident in the church than liberals, conservatives' confidence rating has declined recently, from 64% in 2013 to 57% this year.

Confidence in the Church/Organized Religion, by Ideology: Recent Trends

Liberals Regularly Show More Confidence in Organized Labor, Schools, Newspapers

Despite their overall low levels of confidence in organized labor, public schools and newspapers, liberals habitually express more confidence in these institutions than do conservatives. In particular, liberals' confidence in organized labor is twice that of conservatives.

Figures are percentages with

Bottom Line

Underscoring the different worldviews that liberals and conservatives hold about American society today, these two groups show notable differences in the institutions they find most trustworthy. Majorities of conservatives hold the church and the police in high esteem, two institutions that inspire little confidence among liberals.

Liberals, meanwhile, give heavy support to the presidency, though this is conditional on the incumbent president being a Democrat. Beyond this, liberals have disproportionately high confidence in organized labor, the public school system and newspapers.

Some institutions, such as the military and small business, have the strong confidence of both liberals and conservatives, a reminder that not all institutions are viewed in ideological hues. But those institutions recording the most similar levels of confidence among liberals and conservatives, such as Congress, are those whose confidence levels have sunk to historic or near-historic lows. In other words, several institutions have lost credibility with Americans of varying philosophical stripes, a sign of the broad challenge these institutions have in terms of winning back most Americans' confidence.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted June 2-7, 2015, with a random sample of 1,527 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.

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