A recent Gallup poll which asked 1,027 adult Americans how much confidence they had in 17 of the country’s institutions may show what most folks already know.
Hardly anybody trusts Congress.
Actually, the June 5-8 poll noted only 7 percent of Americans polled had “a great deal” or “quite a lot of” confidence” in Congress. That, according to Gallup, is a historic low.
We don’t doubt it. Congress is an easy target, though that doesn’t make it any less deserving of the criticism it gets.
Part of the problem may be that we expect too much. Or perhaps we don’t expect enough. Or maybe the public is getting what we deserve.
Despite our lack of confidence in Congress, and despite a population that on the one hand seems increasingly divided but on the other increasingly alienated from participating in the contract between governed and governing, we tend to keep sending the same politicians back into office again and again and again.
It’s not surprising then that career politicians have made a career out of being, well, politicians. They’re adept at taking credit and avoiding blame, of being for something at the same time they’re against it.
That aside, there are other telling results in the poll – our military is the most trusted of American institutions with 74 percent saying they have confidence in it. And 62 percent of those polled by Gallup have a good deal of confidence in small business. That’s not surprising.
Police, who rarely get the positive attention they deserve, are next at 53 percent.
It’s all downhill from there, as far as this Gallup poll goes.
Only 45 percent of those asked have a lot of confidence in “The church or organized religion.” Less than that, 35 percent, have confidence in the medical system; only 34 percent feel the same way about the U.S. Supreme Court. Twenty-nine percent of Americans polled by Gallup have a lot of confidence in the presidency; only 26 percent had a great deal of confidence in our public schools and banks; while less than that, 23 percent, felt the same way about both two important institution – our health care system and the criminal justice system.
Newspapers also fared poorly in terms of American confidence, with only 22 percent of those surveyed saying they had a great deal of confidence in them. That ties us with organized labor, but it’s a percentage point ahead of big business (21 percent), news on the internet (19 percent) and television news (18 percent).
And bringing up the rear, Congress.
There’s obviously a lot that can be read into and made of such polls, and one can also discount these surveys simply because they, like anything else, depend much on the nuts and bolts. A question asked one way may spark one response. The same question reworded, or asked by a different pollster, or asked on a different day, may elicit an entirely different answer.
Still, if anything, the overriding lesson may be we live in an age where a dwindling minority of us are trusting of institutions — whether it be big business, public schools, the media, or, yes, government.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, especially if it sparks positive change from those who will inherit whatever mess we leave them.
But it’s not a good thing, either, as darker forces we may not yet be able to imagine could take root in a nation filled increasingly with the disenchanted and disillusioned.