Available quantitative and qualitative data show that the levels of trust that Americans have in the government, institutions, and mainstream media has significantly declined. On the contrary, the trust levels they have for corporations, social opinions, family, friends, and close friends have largely remained unchanged or have fairly increased. Below, is a detailed overview of the trust and confidence levels that Americans have in the government, institutions, and mainstream media versus corporations, social opinions, and trusted personal circles.
Government, Institutions, and Mainstream Media
- “During most of the 20th century, through depression and wars, Americans expressed high faith in their institutions. In 1964, for example, 77% of Americans said they trusted the federal government to do the right thing most or all of the time.” However, these trust levels have significantly declined across different polls — 75% of Americans say that their trust in the federal government has been shrinking and 76% specifically saying that it declined in the past 20 years, according to Pew Research. Currently, only 17% to 20% of Americans expressed trust in the federal government to do what’s right.
- The level of trust that Americans have in the government has generally declined since 1958 and across progressive presidents, according to data published by Pew Research below.
- Furthermore, on the US government, “Americans’ levels of trust in the federal government to handle the two broad types of challenges the country faces remain near their all-time lows. Just under half (48%) say they have a ‘great deal’ or ‘fair amount’ of confidence in the government to handle international problems, and 41% say the same about domestic problems.” The dynamics, as seen below, have also reduced significantly.
- “About four-in-ten adults (41%) think the public’s level of confidence in the federal government is a ‘very big problem,’ putting it more than halfway down the list of other problems that were asked about. Confidence in government is roughly on par with problems caused by racism and illegal immigration — and a bit above terrorism and sexism.”
- Of all institutions in the US, the military has remained the most trusted institution for over two decades. According to the Gallup Poll, “74% of respondents said that they had a ‘great deal’ or ‘quite a lot’ of confidence in the US armed forces.” However, this is not the same for the rest of the surveyed institutions — congress, organized labor, big business, public schools, newspapers, television news, the criminal justice system, news on the internet, and HMOs — as they all scored below a 30% confidence rating.
- “People’s confidence in key institutions is associated with their views about the transparency of institutions. About two-thirds (69%) of Americans say the federal government intentionally withholds important information from the public that it could safely release, and 61% say the news media intentionally ignores stories that are important to the public. Those who hold those skeptical views are more likely than others to have greater concerns about the state of trust.” However, 44% of Americans say both the federal government withholds information and the news media ignores stories.”
- According to the Gallup Poll, Americans’ overall trust in the media since 1997 has fallen significantly, hitting an all-time low in 2016. While the levels rebounded going forward, “trust and confidence in the mass media remained lower than they were in the early 2000s and much lower than when Gallup first measured them in the 1970s.” In clearer terms, between 1998 and 2019, only less than half of Americans (51% to 49%) now say they trust national newspapers, CNN (64% to 48%), Fox News (43% in 2019), and online news (40% in 2019).
- A joint survey by Gallup and the Knight Foundation provided that “Americans are more pessimistic than ever about a perceived lack of objectivity in news coverage from a media apparatus driven by barely concealed agendas.” Even though 84% of Americans believe in the critical importance of the mainstream media for a functioning democracy, “49% of those surveyed think the media is very biased and roughly three-quarters believe the owners of media companies are influencing coverage.”
- Furthermore, Gallup Polls provide that “four in 10 U.S. adults say they have ‘a great deal’ (9%) or ‘a fair amount’ (31%) of trust and confidence in the media to report the news ‘fully, accurately, and fairly,’ while six in 10 have ‘not very much’ trust (27%) or ‘none at all’ (33%).” The report also provides the declining dynamics of the level of trust in mass media from 1997 to 2020 below.
- The graph shows that “Americans’ confidence in the media to report the news fairly, accurately and fully has been persistently low for over a decade and shows no signs of improving.”
- With the prevalence of Covid-19, CBS and YouGov provided that less than half of Americans say they’ll trust the national media (43%) and President Donald Trump (44%) to get accurate information about the virus and what to do during the outbreak.
Corporations, Social Opinions, and Trusted Personal Circles
- As of 2015, more than 53% of American trust or have confidence in the ethical behavior of big business, according to a Public Affairs Pulse Survey. Furthermore, before the advent of the Covid-19 (2018-2020), over 58% of Americans were dissatisfied with the size and influence of major corporations, while 62% of Americans expressed their distrust in corporations generally. Axios provides a similar decline in trust levels below:
- However, with the outbreak of Covid-19, “most Americans are more likely to trust companies, not the federal government, during the pandemic. 75% of respondents said that ‘companies were more reliable than the federal government in keeping America running,’ while 81% agree that large companies ‘are even more vital now to nation’s future than before the pandemic.'” “This shows a much greater level of support for businesses than even at the beginning of the year before the coronavirus began ravaging the health and economy of the US.”
- Furthermore, the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic has led to the implementation of several measures to combat the virus, such as contact tracing. However, “more than 75% of Americans feel their privacy is at risk due to these measures.” A survey report showed that 60% of Americans trust big tech companies to oversee contact tracing while only 40% said they’d prefer federal agencies.
- On trusting corporations, Edelman published that while Americans are concerned about systemic racism, they trust corporations, especially employers, “more than the media, nonprofits, and the federal government to help usher in change.” 71% and 52% indicated their trust in their employers and business leaders, respectively, while only 36% felt the government was heeding calls for racial justice.
- Though published in 2017, Americans, including young Americans, trust their friends, close friends, and family but not the media or government. “The American Press Institute provided that people are most likely to share a news article that comes from a family member or friend than a brand or news outlet.” A Gallup Poll shows that 62% of Americans trust news sources and discussions with friends or family. This has not changed between 1998 to 2019.
- 73% of Americans have stated that they’d trust their friends and families for accurate information about the virus and what to do during the outbreak. This is marginally higher than those that indicated their reliance on the national media (43%) and President Trump (44%).
- According to research published by Pew Research, 64% of Americans say that their fellow citizens’ trust in each other has been shrinking. Some reasons behind this include that “Americans, on the whole, have become more lazy, greedy and dishonest.”
- Americans whose views were changed place more importance on these platforms for getting involved in various social issues. Through these platforms, 67% of such Americans find others who share views about important topics, 63% get involved in political and social issues, 56% get the avenue to express their political thoughts. These define their trust and confidence in these platforms for social and political issues or opinions.