At the individual level, voters’ reluctance to simply cast their lot with the candidate they like the most comes down to trust—whether people trust others to make the same judgment, or vote based on the same value set, that they do. And trust is in short supply among Americans right now.
The decline in trust in institutions over the past few decades has been well documented, but a less heralded drop has also occurred in interpersonal trust. “Overall, trust in other people has gone straight down,” said Eric Uslaner, a government and politics professor at the University of Maryland who has been studying the issue for years. Uslaner told me that in the 1960s, nearly 60 percent of respondents in public polling said they trusted other people to do the right thing, but that number has slipped to about 35 to 40 percent today, depending on the survey.
Americans also perceive that their levels of interpersonal trust have declined. In July, the Pew Research Center published a major report on trust and found that 64 percent believed that people’s confidence in one another is shrinking. And while a strong majority of people still trusted others on some matters—reporting problems to local authorities, for example, or paying their fair share of taxes—less than half, or 43 percent, had confidence in others to cast informed votes in elections.