When public trust in government collapsed from 53 percent in 1972 to 36 percent in November 1974, it made sense. The Watergate investigation, which led to the resignation of President Richard Nixon, was just the sort of ugly — and prolonged — episode to make public perception of government erode in a relatively rapid manner.
Ditto the historically low trust ratings reached in Pew polling in the early 1990s, as a series of congressional scandals — with the House Bank scandal being the most prominent — produced large amounts of media coverage focused on what the heck politicians were doing in the nation’s capital.
But the recent drop, which began in earnest after the goodwill toward Washington surrounding its actions in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks wore off, seems disconnected to any single notable event. There have been a fair share of legislative standoffs and scandals in recent years, but nothing nearly as heavily covered or broad as Watergate or the House bank.
Instead, it appears to be a political death — or at least bloodletting — by a thousand cuts.