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Americans' Confidence in Institutions Stays Low

Americans' Confidence in Institutions Stays Low

by Jim Norman
Chart: data points are described in article

Story Highlights

  • Confidence in institutions stays near historical lows
  • Confidence in newspapers, organized religion now at record lows
  • Confidence in institutions has slumped for a decade

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans' confidence in the nation's major institutions continues to lag below historical averages, with two institutions -- newspapers and organized religion -- dropping to record lows this year. The overall average of Americans expressing "a great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in 14 institutions is below 33% for the third straight year.

Average Confidence Rating for All Institutions, 1993-2016

Americans' confidence in key U.S. institutions has remained relatively low since 2007. That year, the average for the 14 institutions Gallup has asked about annually since 1993 dropped to 32% from 38% in 2006. (Gallup began asking about a 15th institution, small business, in 2007.) From 1993 to 2006, the average had been below 38% only once -- in 1994, when it dipped to 36%.

Banks, Organized Religion, News Media, Congress Fell Most Over Past Decade

Since 2006, Americans have lost confidence in 10 of those 14 institutions, with six suffering substantial losses. The remaining four institutions saw no change or a gain of no more than a few percentage points.

Many Institutions Lost Ground in Last Decade
Percentage with "a great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in the institution
June 2006 June 2016 Difference, 2006 to 2016
% % pct. pts.
Military 73 73 0
Police 58 56 -2
Church or organized religion 52 41 -11
Medical system 38 39 +1
Presidency 33 36 +3
U.S. Supreme Court 40 36 -4
Public schools 37 30 -7
Banks 49 27 -22
Organized labor 24 23 -1
Criminal justice system 25 23 -2
Television news 31 21 -10
Newspapers 30 20 -10
Big business 18 18 0
Congress 19 9 -10
Gallup polls, June 1-4, 2006, and June 1-5, 2016

Confidence in banks -- which took a hit amid the bursting housing bubble in 2007 and 2008, and dropped further after the ensuing financial crisis -- fell the most, plunging from 49% in 2006 to 27% now. Confidence in organized religion, which has felt the effects of the scandals enveloping the Catholic Church, dropped from 52% to 41%, one point below last year's previous low of 42%. Television news, newspapers and Congress all dropped 10 points -- pushing newspapers to a 20% confidence level, two points below their previous low of 22% in 2007 and 2014.

Despite the declining percentages of Americans having high confidence in these institutions, the majority have at least "some" confidence in all but one of them. Congress has the ignominious distinction of being the only institution sparking little or no confidence in a majority of Americans.

As has been the case in previous years, Americans have the most confidence in the military, and the least in Congress. The police and small business are the only other institutions garnering majority confidence. Joining Congress at the bottom of the list are big business, newspapers, television news, the criminal justice system and organized labor.

As Other Measures Climb, Confidence in Institutions Lags Behind

While the overall average confidence in institutions is still six points below where it was in 2006, the trends in two other key measures of the public's mood have -- by contrast -- recovered from major drops during the past decade.

  • When Gallup asked about confidence in institutions in June 2006, the public's satisfaction with the way things were going in the nation was in the midst of a long fall, having dropped from 55% in January 2004 to 30%. The decline continued through the financial crisis of 2008 -- bottoming out at 7% in October of that year. A long, bumpy climb has brought the percentage satisfied back up to 29% in June 2016, about where it was in June 2006.
  • A Gallup measure of job market optimism asking whether "now is a good time or a bad time to find a quality job" fell from 41% in June 2006 to as low as 8% in November 2009 and 2011, but is now up to 43%.

U.S. Satisfaction and Job Market Optimism Rise Between 2006 and 2016; Confidence in Institutions Does Not

Bottom Line

Americans clearly lack confidence in the institutions that affect their daily lives: the schools responsible for educating the nation's children; the houses of worship that are expected to provide spiritual guidance; the banks that are supposed to protect Americans' earnings; the U.S. Congress elected to represent the nation's interests; and the news media that claims it exists to keep them informed.

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.

Each institution has its own specific probable causes for this situation. But the loss of faith in so many at one time, while Americans are becoming more positive in other ways, suggests there are reasons that reach beyond any individual institution. The task of identifying and dealing with those reasons in a way that rebuilds confidence is one of the more important challenges facing the nation's leaders in the years ahead.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted June 1-5, 2016, with a random sample of 1,027 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on this sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 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 60% cellphone respondents and 40% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

View survey methodology, complete question responses and trends.

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.

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