Finally, some documentation for what you’ve been sensing all along in recent years: Americans have less trust in their government — and each other.
It may seem understandable after one president so often promised we could keep our doctor and healthcare while another vowed that Saddam Hussein had nuclear weapons. Now, according to media counts, the current incumbent is what Mark Twain would call a serial stretcher.
Then, there’s Congress, which has a chronic approval and distrust problem. And the mainstream media that’s been caught in many malicious distortions and omissions.
But new research shows that Americans believe this mounting mistrust is also inhibiting or even prohibiting progress solving some serious social issues. Like democracy, trust is a fragile Humpty-Dumpty kind of thing. Once broken, it’s the dickens to rebuild.
A massive new study by the Pew Research Center involving more than 10,600 adult Americans, finds many believe that sinking trust in public institutions and neighbors is a sign of national decline and cultural sickness, a feeling fueled by some politicians for their own self-gain.
Some also tie it to what they perceive to be increased loneliness and excessive individualism. About half of Americans (49%) link the decline in interpersonal trust to a belief that people are not as reliable as they used to be.
Many ascribe shrinking trust to a political culture they believe is broken and spawns suspicion, even cynicism, about the ability of others to distinguish fact from fiction.
These concerns are not just hand-wringing worries. Sliding into another presidential and congressional election cycle, lack of trust and cynicism can threaten the foundations of political parties, especially ones based on a belief that government can fix social problems.
Those who think interpersonal trust has declined in the past generation offer a laundry list of societal and political problems, including a sense that Americans on the whole have become more lazy, greedy and dishonest.
They also cited political gridlock in Washington as a major concern, although collectively these identical concerned Americans elect and then overwhelmingly reelect the same objects of their scorn.
The research also explored the existence of trust and distrust among various social sectors. Surprisingly, it found little variation by partisan grouping with trust among Democrats and Republicans varying about the same.
The elderly, well-educated and more affluent exhibited a greater sense of trust, while nearly half of younger Americans (46 percent) display markedly less trust than other age groups. Whites exhibited greater trust than Hispanics or blacks.
However, 84 percent of respondents say it is possible to improve trust in government while 86 percent profess belief that it’s possible to enhance trust among individuals.
An interesting segment of respondents suggested “that a different approach to news reporting – one that emphasizes the ways people cooperate to solve problems – would have a tonic effect.”