The average trust score in 2016 was 17, the lowest ever recorded. Although these questions are about trust, they serve as a proxy for understanding cynicism because political scientists think of those two things as opposites. Cynicism goes up as trust goes down, or vice versa.

Now, we weren’t always this dark. Scrub away the black eyeliner and you’ll find a country that once got an average score of 61, back in 1966. Same survey. Same questions. And you see the same trend line in other measures of trust, such as Pew data that tracks the percentage of Americans who agree that the federal government will “do what is right.” Half a century ago, 77 percent of us had high hopes for our elected officials. Since then, things have been on a downward slide, with two clear exceptions…

And, yet, voter participation has not followed a similar trend. “I’d say cynics generally aren’t apathetic,” said Sanne Rijkhoff, a professor of political science at Texas A&M, Corpus Cristi. “If you really don’t like something, that implies a certain level of passion about it.” Despite our historically low levels of political trust, Americans join in political movements and activism at staggeringly high rates. Back in 2008, Pew found that 63 percent of Americans had joined in some kind of political or civic activism. A similar survey by the same organization in 2012 found that 72 percent of us were out there, doing something to shape a political system we mostly hate. And Logan Dancey, a professor of government at Wesleyan University, even found evidence that the more cynical people are, the more likely they are to take a political scandal seriously, see wrongdoing, and want politicians to be held accountable.