Americans’ Confidence in Military Up, Banks Down

by Lydia Saad

Surge in confidence around presidency reflects new administration

PRINCETON, NJ -- At 82%, the percentage of Americans' expressing high confidence in the U.S. military has returned to where it was at the beginning of the Iraq war in 2003. Public confidence in the military is up 11 percentage points from a year ago, and nearly matches the record-high 85% found during the 1991 Gulf War.


Even with the military's relatively low confidence ratings from 2004 through 2007 -- a period of broad public doubt about U.S. success in Iraq -- the organization has ranked No. 1 or No. 2 in Gallup's annual Confidence in Institutions list almost every year since the measure was instituted in 1973, and has been No. 1 continuously since 1998.

According to the June 14-17 survey, small business ranks second among the 16 institutions tested this year, with a 67% confidence rating. The next-most-highly regarded U.S. institutions are the police, the church or organized religion, and the presidency. All of these entities elicit high confidence from a majority of Americans.


Public confidence in the presidency has risen by 25 points over the past year, exceeding the 11-point increase in confidence in the military. The percentage of Americans saying they have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in the presidency has in fact doubled since June 2008, from 26% to 51%. This is directly correlated with President George W. Bush's 30% approval rating at this time a year ago, and Barack Obama's 58% rating in the mid-June survey. Historically, Gallup has found that confidence ratings for the presidency are closely linked with the job approval ratings of the sitting president.


At the same time, confidence in banks fell by 10 points, from 32% in June 2008 to a record-low 22% today. The previous low point for banks was 30% in October 1991.


Only the top five rated U.S. institutions this year inspire high confidence from a majority of Americans. The sixth-ranked institution is the Supreme Court, with a 39% rating, and the scores descend from there.

The lowest-ranking institutions in 2009 are big business and Congress. The 16% confidence rating for big business is the record worst for that institution, falling below the previous 18% low found in 2006 and 2007. By contrast, confidence in small business is up seven points, from 60% to 67%. As a result, there is now a 51-point difference in the confidence ratings of big business and small business, the largest gap seen between them in the five occasions both groups were included in the Confidence in Institutions list.


While still low at 17%, confidence in Congress is up slightly from the 12% recorded last year (consistent with the improvement seen in congressional job approval). That figure was not only the record low for Congress, but the lowest for any institution in the three decades of Gallup polling on this question.

Thus, of the three branches of government, the presidency currently engenders the most confidence from Americans, followed by the Supreme Court and then Congress.


Summing Up Changes

The transition from the generally unpopular presidency of George W. Bush to the broadly popular presidency of Barack Obama has had a clear impact on Americans' willingness to express high levels of confidence in the presidency, and most likely also explains the smaller confidence boosts seen for other aspects of government, including Congress, the Supreme Court, the criminal justice system, and the public schools.

The increase in the already-high confidence levels in the military could be the result of several factors, including the improved political and military situation in Iraq and the setting of target dates for the withdrawal of most U.S. troops from that country.

The near-collapse of U.S. financial markets last fall and recent bankruptcies within the auto industry are obviously key contributors to reduced confidence in big business and banks. The increased confidence Americans show toward small business may simply be the natural result of contrasting small business with big business.

The only other significant change is a five-point increase in confidence in Health Maintenance Organizations, from 13% to 18%. Confidence in television news, newspapers, organized labor, the police, the medical system, and the church is unchanged.


Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,011 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted June 14-17, 2009. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.


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