Confidence in U.S. Institutions Still Below Historical Norms
Politics

Confidence in U.S. Institutions Still Below Historical Norms

by Jeffrey M. Jones

Story Highlights

  • Only military, small business top historical averages
  • Military, small business highest-rated institutions overall
  • Confidence in organized religion, police at all-time lows

PRINCETON, N.J. -- Americans' confidence in most major U.S. institutions remains below the historical average for each one. Only the military (72%) and small business (67%) -- the highest-rated institutions in this year's poll -- are currently rated higher than their historical norms, based on the percentage expressing "a great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in the institution.

Confidence in U.S. Institutions, 2015 vs. Historical Average for Each Institution

These results are based on a June 2-7 Gallup poll that included Gallup's latest update on confidence in U.S. institutions. Gallup first measured confidence ratings in 1973 and has updated them each year since 1993.

Americans' confidence in most major institutions has been down for many years as the nation has dealt with prolonged wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a major recession and sluggish economic improvement, and partisan gridlock in Washington. In fact, 2004 was the last year most institutions were at or above their historical average levels of confidence. Perhaps not coincidentally, 2004 was also the last year Americans' satisfaction with the way things are going in the United States averaged better than 40%. Currently, 28% of Americans are satisfied with the state of the nation.

From a broad perspective, Americans' confidence in all institutions over the last two years has been the lowest since Gallup began systematic updates of a larger set of institutions in 1993. The average confidence rating of the 14 institutions asked about annually since 1993 -- excluding small business, asked annually since 2007 -- is 32% this year. This is one percentage point above the all-institution average of 31% last year. Americans were generally more confident in all institutions in the late 1990s and early 2000s as the country enjoyed a strong economy and a rally in support for U.S. institutions after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Trend: Average Confidence Rating Across All Institutions, by Year

Confidence in Political, Financial and Religious Institutions Especially Low

Today's confidence ratings of Congress, organized religion, banks, the Supreme Court and the presidency show the greatest deficits compared with their historical averages, all running at least 10 points below that mark. Americans' frustration with the government's performance has eroded the trust they have in all U.S. political institutions. Likewise, Americans' confidence in banks fell after the bursting of the housing bubble and the subsequent financial crisis.

The large decline in confidence in organized religion is likely tied to a decline in religiosity overall, but also to scandals that have plagued various religious organizations, most notably the Catholic Church. This year's 42% score for confidence in the church or organized religion is the lowest Gallup has measured for that institution. The prior low was 44% in 2012.

Confidence in the police, at 52% this year, ties the low for that institution recorded in the first year it was measured, 1993. In the past year, the police have been a major focus of news coverage in several incidents in which white police officers' actions resulted in the deaths of black men they were trying to apprehend.

Still, the church and the police rank among the highest-rated institutions, trailing only the military and small business among the 15 institutions tested in this year's poll. Further back in history, the church ranked first or tied for first in all but one survey from 1973 through 1988. Since then, the military has been the top-ranked institution each year except 1997, when small business was first.

Congress is the institution in which Americans express the least confidence this year, with 8% doing so, one point above its 7% rating last year -- the lowest Gallup has ever measured for any institution. Congress has ranked last each year since 2010, and a total of 12 times since 1973. Other institutions that have held this unwelcome distinction in the past include big business (nine times), health maintenance organizations (eight), the criminal justice system (six) and organized labor (four). The top- and bottom-rated institutions in each Confidence in Institutions poll are shown at the bottom of this story.

Implications

Americans continue to show lower levels of confidence in most of the major institutions central to U.S. society, with only the military and small business getting ratings in 2015 that are above their historical averages. That speaks to the broader dissatisfaction Americans have with the state of the nation more generally over the past decade as the U.S. has faced serious economic, international and political challenges. Americans have tended to be more confident in U.S. institutions when the economy has been strong, such as in the mid-1980s and the late 1990s and early 2000s. Although Americans are now more upbeat about the economy than they were in 2008-2013, they are not yet convinced that the economy is good, given that their assessments of national economic conditions remain more negative than positive.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted June 2-7, 2015, with a random sample of 1,527 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

View survey methodology, complete question responses, and trends.

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.

Top- and Bottom-Ranked Institutions, Gallup Confidence in Institutions Poll, 1973-2015

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