When we point to the damage done by bureaucrats telling “noble lies” about masks and imposing hysterical and overwrought “guidelines,” this is precisely what we mean. A new poll from the Harvard School of Public Health demonstrates a credibility crisis for government health agencies as the nation emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic. A bare majority of Americans have significant trust in the CDC … and they rate the highest in this poll.
NPR chalks this up to a distrust of government, but this seems much more specific:
Overall, the poll found that only 52% of Americans have a great deal of trust in CDC. Other health agencies were even lower — only 37% of Americans said they had a lot of trust in the National Institutes of Health or the Food and Drug Administration.
“We’re in a period of distrust of government in general,” notes Robert Blendon, emeritus professor at the Harvard Chan School, who oversaw the survey. “If we substituted the FBI for the CDC, it would not do a lot better.”
The poll found that trust isn’t just a problem for federal health agencies. State health departments have the trust of 41% of Americans, and local health departments only did slightly better at 44%.
Trust in public health during a pandemic is incredibly high stakes. Public health measures — like mask wearing and business restrictions — can’t work as intended to contain a pandemic if the community doesn’t believe they’re based on reliable information.
These agencies created this problem because they didn’t base their measures on reliable information. The CDC’s ridiculous risk assessment of outdoor transmission is just the latest example of arbitrariness in their approach. That doesn’t even touch on their suggestion that masks should be in general use during flu season, or their terrible “guidance” for kids’ summer camps this year.
In other words, this isn’t about a generalized distrust of government. It’s a specific assessment of credibility for an agency that has abandoned science for superstition. When Susan Collins told Rochelle Walensky that her agency no longer represents a “gold standard” in public health, that was a rational assessment of performance, both in this administration and the previous administration.
Although to be fair, if we’re grading on a curve, apparently the CDC is still the gold standard:
The FDA’s significantly lower rating is curious. Their major fumble over the last few months was their catastrophic pause on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, but the CDC was part of that decision too. Without longer-range polling on these questions it’s tough to assign the poor performance to any one action or decision, but clearly Americans are not happy with the performance of public health agencies — and given the remarkable speed with which safe and effective vaccines have rolled out, that’s really saying something.
Interestingly, the ethnic variations on these ratings are not terribly dramatic:
As one might imagine, there are significant partisan differences in play, but not quite as much as one would imagine:
The gap on the CDC is 49 points between Democrats and Republicans. By the time we get to the FDA, however, the gap has narrowed to 21 points and the Democrats drop below a majority. Republicans tend to rate each group more skeptically, but the non-governmental groups get majority support (except for the American Red Cross, which probably results from other issues). Seventy percent of Republicans put a great deal of trust in “healthcare workers you know,” just below 78% for Democrats. To that extent, NPR may be correct that an impulse against government is in play, but perhaps only for the CDC. And that still doesn’t negate the several ways in which the CDC has earned that distrust.