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Americans' Trust in Politicians Hits 10-Year High

Americans' Trust in Politicians Hits 10-Year High

by Jim Norman

Story Highlights

  • Fifty-five percent have "great deal" or "fair amount" of trust
  • Poll was conducted prior to airing of Kavanaugh sexual assault allegations
  • Trust in the American public down slightly to 58%

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Fifty-five percent of Americans said in early September that they have a "great deal" or "fair amount" of confidence in politicians -- a 10-year high that is up seven percentage points from a year ago and 13 points from the record low of 42% in September 2016.

Line chart showing percentage of confidence in men and women in political life since 1972, currently 55%.

The poll was conducted Sept. 4-12, while initial hearings were being held on the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court but before news stories surfaced concerning accusations that he had committed sexual assault as a teenager in 1982. Hearings last week on that allegation have erupted into a partisan battle that has left Democratic and Republican senators accusing each other of subverting the nomination process to score political points.

In the early September poll, Gallup asked respondents, "How much trust and confidence do you have in general in men and women in political life in this country?" The increase this year in those expressing a "great deal" (6%) or "fair amount" (49%) of confidence pushed the combined total above 50% for the first time since it stood at a near-record high of 66% in September 2008. The question was asked three times in the 1970s, twice in the 1990s, and every year since 2001 except 2006. The highest combined "great deal" and "fair amount" total across the entire span of the trend was 68% measured in 1974, and the lowest was 42% in 2016.

The question is included in Gallup's annual Governance poll which measures the public's views on the role of government and how well federal, state and local governments are performing.

Republican Trust, Confidence in Politicians Approaching Democratic Levels

Trust and confidence in American politicians have grown substantially in each of the last two years while remaining fairly stable among Democrats. Republicans have been generally less likely than Democrats to trust politicians since Democrat Barack Obama succeeded Republican George W. Bush as president in 2009 at a time when the Democrats controlled both the House and the Senate. Republicans have continued in most years to show less trust even after Republicans gained control of the House in 2010, the Senate in 2014 and the presidency in 2016.

Only a third (33%) of Republicans and independents who leaned toward the Republican Party, compared with 55% of Democrats and leaners, said they trusted politicians in 2016, the final year of Obama's presidency. Last year the partisan gap narrowed, with 43% of Republicans and 55% of Democrats trusting politicians, and in this September's poll, the gap closed further as the percentage of Republicans showing trust climbed to 53%, compared with 58% of Democrats.

Line chart showing percentage of confidence in men and women in political life since 1972 among partisans and all adults.

Trust in American Peoples' Judgment Slips Slightly From Last Year's 62%

The public's trust in the American peoples' judgment on national issues sank slightly this year after a rebound in 2017 that had halted a seven-year slide. Fifty-eight percent in this year's poll say they have a "great deal" (13%) or "fair amount" (45%) of trust and confidence in their fellow Americans, down from last year's 62%.

Line chart showing percentage of confidence in American people’s judgement about issues facing the country since 1974.

From 2009 to 2016, the percentage having a great deal or fair amount of trust in the American people's judgment had dropped at least one percentage point each year, sliding from 73% to 56% before last year's recovery.

A slim majority of Republicans and leaners trusted the American people in 2016 (54%), but that rose to 65% in 2017 and 62% this year. Trust among Democrats and leaners has stayed relatively stable -- 57% in 2016, 62% last year and 58% in September.

In every one of the 18 polls that has asked Americans both about their trust in politicians and their trust in the American people, a higher percentage has shown trust in the people. However, due to the drop in trust in Americans, this year's three-point gap is the closest it has ever been, far closer than the average difference of 16 points.

Bottom Line

For the first time since 2008, more than half of the American public has said they trust politicians, but any impact of the political wars now being fought over Kavanaugh's Supreme Court nomination has yet to be measured.

Similarly heated battles during the 1991 Senate hearing on the nomination of Clarence Thomas, who also faced allegations of sexual misconduct, caused confidence in Congress to drop from 30% to 18%. Gallup did not ask a general question about trust and confidence in politicians that year, but in a poll conducted immediately after the hearings, Americans were more likely to say they had less confidence in Congress (48%) and less confidence in the nomination process (48%) as a result of the hearings than to say they had the same or more confidence.

View complete question responses and trends.

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