- No institution’s confidence score improved significantly in the past year
- Confidence in four institutions now at record lows
- Widest party gaps seen for the presidency, public schools
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans’ faith in major societal institutions hasn’t improved over the past year following a slump in public confidence in 2022.
Last year, Gallup recorded significant declines in public confidence in 11 of the 16 institutions it tracks annually, with the presidency and Supreme Court suffering the most. The share of Americans expressing a great deal or fair amount of confidence in these fell 15 and 11 percentage points, respectively.
Neither score recovered appreciably in the latest poll, with confidence in the court now at 27% and the presidency at 26%. However, the survey was conducted June 1-22, 2023, before the Supreme Court issued decisions affecting affirmative action in education, college loan forgiveness and LGBTQ+ Americans’ access to creative services. Any or all of these decisions could have altered the court’s image as well as that of President Joe Biden, who spoke out against the rulings.
Public confidence in each of the other 14 institutions remains near last year’s relatively low level, with none of the scores worsening or improving meaningfully.
Overall, the new poll finds small business enjoying the most public trust, with 65% of Americans having a great deal or fair amount of confidence in it. A majority, 60%, also have high confidence in the military, while less than half (43%) feel this way about the next highest-rated institution, the police.
The medical system and the church or organized religion round out the top five annually rated institutions, albeit with meager 34% and 32% confidence ratings, respectively. Another six -- the U.S. Supreme Court, banks, public schools, the presidency, large technology companies and organized labor -- earn between 25% and 27% confidence.
The five worst-rated institutions -- newspapers, the criminal justice system, television news, big business and Congress -- stir confidence in less than 20% of Americans, with Congress, at 8%, the only one in single digits.
Gallup also included higher education on the list of institutions rated this year. Analysis of the results and its more limited trend, from 2015 and 2018, will be reported separately.
Many Institutions at or Near Rock Bottom
Most of the institutions rated this year are within three points of their all-time-low confidence score, including four that are at or tied with their record low. These are the police, public schools, large technology companies and big business.
Only four institutions have a confidence score significantly above their historical low: the military, small business, organized labor and banks. However, the lows for these institutions were recorded more than a decade ago, while the recent trend for each has been downward.
The historically depressed nature of today’s ratings is evident in the average confidence scores of nine institutions that Gallup has routinely tracked since 1979. That average fell to a new low of 26% this year. While down just one point from 2022, it is 10 points lower than in 2020.
Confidence has generally trended downward since registering 48% in 1979 and holding near 45% in the 1980s. It averaged closer to 40% in the 1990s and early 2000s before dropping to the low 30% range in the 2010s. Last year was the first time it fell below 30%.
The average confidence level for the 14 institutions tracked regularly since 1993 is also 26%, and also one point below the prior low recorded last year for that trend.
Some Institutions More Polarizing Than Others
Seven of the institutions measured this year earn sharply higher confidence ratings from one major party group than the other.
- The widest partisan differences are seen for the presidency (39 points) and public schools (34 points), about which Democrats are much more positive than Republicans. Democrats also express substantially more confidence than Republicans in organized labor and newspapers.
- Republicans have significantly more confidence than Democrats when it comes to the Supreme Court (28 points), the church or organized religion (24 points), and the police (20 points).
- Independents’ confidence is more similar to Democrats’ than Republicans’ when it comes to religion and the police, while it falls halfway between the two groups on the other polarizing institutions.
Partisans’ confidence ratings are similar to what they were last year for all institutions except the police, with Democrats’ confidence increasing from 29% in 2022 to 40% today. Longer term, partisans’ confidence in the presidency changes depending on the party of the sitting president -- while the party gap has widened over time for public schools, the Supreme Court, religion, the police, newspapers and the medical system.
Americans’ confidence in institutions in 2023 represents the continuation of the historic confidence deficit recorded a year ago. None of the 15 institutions rated annually managed to repair their images, with many remaining at or near their all-time lows. While hardly encouraging, the good news is that none worsened significantly.
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