Religion and Social Trends

Military, Police Top Gallup's Annual Confidence in Institutions Poll

Little change in confidence in newspapers; church enjoys modest rebound in confidence

GALLUP NEWS SERVICE

PRINCETON, NJ -- There has been little change since last year in Americans' expressed confidence in the major institutions in American society. Americans remain most confident in the military, followed by the police, the presidency, the church or organized religion, and banks. Americans remain least confident in health maintenance organizations (HMOs) and big business.

None of this year's confidence ratings are substantially different from those measured last year in Gallup's annual Confidence in Institutions poll. Notably, despite the highly publicized New York Times scandal in which a young reporter was found to have fabricated and plagiarized material in many of his stories (leading to the resignation of the paper's top two editors), the public's confidence in newspapers did not change significantly from last year. Americans' confidence in the church has rebounded slightly from its all-time low last year.

Confidence in 15 Basic American Institutions

Thirty years ago, The Gallup Poll began routinely asking Americans to rate their confidence in a number of American institutions, with a question that reads as follows: "Now I am going to read you a list of institutions in American society. Please tell me how much confidence you, yourself, have in each one -- a great deal, quite a lot, some, or very little."

The list of institutions included in the question has varied from year to year, although a core list of institutions has generally been included each time the confidence question has been asked. This year's poll included 15 institutions (see complete list below). Most of the discussion that follows is based on the analysis of the percentage of Americans registering a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in each institution. The results range from a high point of 82% who have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in the military, down to the low point of 17% who have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in HMOs.

Confidence in Institutions
% Great Deal/Quite a Lot

As noted, there has been very little change from last year to this year in the confidence levels for each institution:

Confidence in Institutions
% Change from 2002

As can be seen, confidence in 10 of the institutions increased slightly this year, two stayed exactly the same, and confidence dropped slightly in the remaining three.

Confidence in Selected Institutions

The Church

Confidence in Institutions
% Great Deal/Quite a Lot

There has been a slight recovery of confidence in the "church or organized religion" this year. The percentage of Americans who expressed a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in the church rose from 45% last year to 50% this year.

Last year's 45% level was the lowest measured in Gallup Poll history, perhaps not surprisingly, given the extraordinarily negative publicity last year given to the Catholic Church relating to the priest sex abuse scandals. The current 50%, while up from last year, is the second-lowest rating Gallup has recorded for this institution. Both last year's and this year's measures sharply contrast to the results obtained in the 1970s through the mid-1980s, when two-thirds of the public said it had a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in the church.

More generally, the image of the church and organized religion has been rocky over the last 30 years. In 1989, on the heels of scandals involving television evangelists, only 52% of Americans gave the church high ratings, and in 1993, confidence in the church came in at only 53%. Confidence had climbed back to the 61% level by 2001 -- only to plummet 16 points last year.

Catholics are more confident in the church than they were last year (51% compared to 42%), while Protestants show a much smaller increase in confidence (from 59% to 62%). While the gap between Protestants' and Catholics' expressed confidence in the church is smaller than last year, earlier data in this series showed no gap at all between Catholics and Protestants. The continuing Protestant-Catholic gap suggests that the effects of the Catholic sex abuse scandal still linger most specifically among the nation's Catholics.

Newspapers

Confidence in Institutions
% Great Deal/Quite a Lot

If ever there was a year in which some observers might expect Americans' confidence in newspapers to drop, it would be this year. The saga of Jayson Blair, the young New York Times reporter who was discovered to have plagiarized and fabricated stories, was prominently featured in the press, including the cover of at least one major weekly newsmagazine. The scandal was ultimately so significant that it became a major factor in the unprecedented resignation of the two top New York Times editors.

Despite this, we simply don't find much change in Americans' confidence in newspapers this year. Thirty-three percent of Americans have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in newspapers, compared with 35% last year. Indeed, as recently as 1994, an even lower 29% of Americans gave newspapers a high confidence rating.

There are several possible reasons why the New York Times situation has not affected Americans' confidence in newspapers. First, despite its extraordinary impact on journalism, many Americans simply weren't paying that much attention to the story. A Gallup Poll conducted May 19-21 showed that only 7% were following the story very closely, while 65% were not following it closely. Second, the overall level of confidence in newspapers was relatively low to begin with, meaning that the latest revelations may have simply confirmed some Americans' already poor image of papers, rather than lowering it further. Finally, it may be that the American public, even if aware of the New York Times situation, has not generalized it to all American newspapers.

The Military

Confidence in Institutions
% Great Deal/Quite a Lot

The 82% confidence rating for the military this year is the second highest in Gallup's history -- just slightly lower than the 85% confidence level recorded in March 1991, just after the victorious end of the Persian Gulf War. After subsiding in the interim, the military's confidence rating again increased to 79% last June, up from 66% the year before, which reflected in part the continuing aftereffect of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the military's role in the war against terrorism in Afghanistan. Outside of the March 1991 reading, military confidence ratings had been in the 60% range throughout the 1990s. The low point for ratings of confidence in the military came in 1981, less than a decade after the end of the Vietnam War, and just as President Ronald Reagan was beginning his efforts to boost the U.S. military to combat communism and the influence of the Soviet Union.

Banks

Confidence in Institutions
% Great Deal/Quite a Lot

Banks have been slowly but surely gaining confidence over the past five years, climbing from a 40% confidence rating in 1998, to a 50% confidence rating this year. The current 50% rating is the highest since 1987.

Confidence in banks as an institution has been up and down over the years. The all-time low for banks came in with a 30% rating in 1991. The high point occurred in 1979, with a 60% confidence rating.

Congress

Confidence in Institutions
% Great Deal/Quite a Lot

Confidence in Congress -- now at 29% -- is little changed over the last several years, and about midrange compared to the last 30 years. The high point for confidence in Congress as an institution was 42% during the Watergate scandal Senate hearings in May 1973. The low point was an 18% rating recorded in 1991, 1993, and 1994, when public frustration with the institution fueled term-limit initiatives in many states, and which may have contributed to the Republican takeover of Congress after 40 years of Democratic control. As noted, this year's 29% confidence rating for Congress is unchanged from last year, but both years' ratings remain slightly higher than what was recorded through the 1990s.

Big Business

Confidence in Institutions
% Great Deal/Quite a Lot

Very few Americans (22%) have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in big business. That's not surprising, given the lingering impact of the Enron, WorldCom, Tyco, Global Crossing, ImClone, and Martha Stewart scandals that have rocked the business world. Confidence in big business fell to 20% last year from 28% the year before, but confidence levels for big business have never been high. The recent high point for positive confidence in big business has been 30%, recorded in 1998 and 1999 during the economic boom years when CEOs graced the covers of magazines and business was seemingly making all Americans richer. Prior to that, however, confidence in big business was as low as 21% in 1995, and 20% (tied with last year as the all-time low point) in 1981.

Differences in Confidence Levels by Gender, Age, and Partisanship

Gender

There are no major differences in confidence in institutions by gender, with a few exceptions:

  • Women's confidence in the church is 12 points higher than men's confidence.
  • Men are eight points and nine points more confident in the Supreme Court and in the medical system than women are.
  • Women express slightly more confidence in television news and newspapers than men do.

 

Confidence in Institutions

% Great Deal/Quite a Lot of Confidence

June 9-10, 2003

Total

Men

Women

Gender Gap

%

%

%

Military

82

82

81

+1

Police

61

60

61

-1

Presidency

55

58

53

+5

Banks

50

51

50

+1

Church/org religion

50

44

56

-12

Supreme Court

47

51

43

+8

Medical system

44

49

40

+9

Public schools

40

40

40

0

TV news

35

32

38

-6

Newspapers

33

30

37

-7

Criminal justice system

29

29

28

+1

Congress

29

30

28

+2

Organized labor

28

28

28

0

Big business

22

24

20

+4

HMOs

17

19

14

+5



Age

Younger Americans are generally more confident than older Americans in most of the institutions tested in this year's poll.

Those aged 18 to 49 are particularly more likely than those 50 and older to express high levels of confidence in newspapers and television news, the medical system, in HMOs, in organized labor, and in big business.

The older group expresses more confidence than younger Americans in the church and in the military.

 

Confidence in Institutions

% Great Deal/Quite a Lot of Confidence

June 9-10, 2003

Total

18-49

50+

Age Gap

%

%

%

Military

82%

78%

85%

-7

Police

61

60

64

-4

Presidency

55

56

55

+1

Banks

50

58

54

+4

Church/org religion

50

46

55

-9

Supreme Court

47

46

44

+2

Medical system

44

55

40

+15

Public schools

40

46

39

+7

TV news

35

46

31

+15

Newspapers

33

42

27

+15

Criminal justice system

29

35

28

+7

Congress

29

31

25

+6

Organized labor

28

35

25

+10

Big business

22

26

17

+9

HMOs

17

28

15

+13



Partisanship

Republicans are more confident than Democrats in 10 of the 15 institutions tested.

It is not surprising to find that Republicans are overwhelmingly more confident in the presidency, reflecting the fact that their party controls the White House. Democrats were more confident in the presidency while Bill Clinton was in office.

Similarly, the data show that Republicans are more confident in Congress than are Democrats (not surprising given that both houses of Congress are controlled by Republicans). And, perhaps because the Supreme Court is viewed as conservative in its overall nature and/or because of the court's role in deciding the 2000 election in Bush's favor, Republicans are more confident in the Supreme Court than are Democrats.

Republicans also express more confidence than Democrats in the military, banks, big business, the police, the church, and in the medical system.

Democrats, on the other hand, are considerably more confident than Republicans in organized labor and in public schools, and more confident than Republicans in newspapers.

Confidence in Institutions

% Great Deal/Quite a Lot of Confidence

June 9-10, 2003

Total

Republicans

Independents

Democrats

Republican minus Democrat

%

%

%

%

Military

82%

92%

79%

74%

-18

Police

60

71

55

58

-13

Presidency

55

80

52

34

-46

Banks

50

62

44

47

-15

Church/org religion

50

63

39

52

-11

Supreme Court

47

56

45

41

-15

Medical system

44

48

45

40

-8

Public schools

40

34

37

48

+14

TV news

35

35

34

38

+3

Newspapers

33

30

30

41

+11

Criminal Justice system

29

32

26

29

-3

Congress

29

35

26

26

-9

Organized labor

28

22

26

36

+14

Big Business

22

30

19

19

-11

HMOs

16

16

16

17

+1

Survey Methods

These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,029 adults, 18 years and older, conducted June 9-10, 2003. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3 percentage points. 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.

Now I am going to read you a list of institutions in American society. Please tell me how much confidence you, yourself, have in each one -- a great deal, quite a lot, some, or very little? First, ... Next, [RANDOM ORDER]



2003 Jun 9-10
(sorted by "a great deal/quite a lot")



Great
deal



Quite
a lot




Some



Very
little



NONE (vol.)



No
opinion

Great deal/ Quite
a lot

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

The military

48

34

14

4

*

*

82

The police

29

32

29

9

1

*

61

The presidency

26

29

28

14

1

2

55

The church or organized religion

27

23

30

17

2

1

50

Banks

19

31

38

11

1

*

50

The U.S. Supreme Court

20

27

38

12

1

2

47

The medical system

19

25

36

19

1

*

44

The public schools

15

25

40

18

1

1

40

Television news

16

19

47

16

1

1

35

Newspapers

11

22

49

16

1

1

33

Congress

10

19

50

19

1

1

29

The criminal justice system

10

19

45

25

1

*

29

Organized labor

12

16

47

20

2

3

28

Big business

8

14

44

31

2

1

22

Health Maintenance Organizations, HMOs

7

10

39

38

4

2

17

CONFIDENCE IN INSTITUTIONS -- FULL TREND

(COMBINES "GREAT DEAL" AND "QUITE A LOT")

A.

B.

C.

D.

E.

F.

G.

H.

I.

J.

K.

L.

M.

N.

O.

P.

Q.

R.

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

%

2003 Jun

50

82

47

50

40

33

29

35

28

55

61

44

29

22

17

--

--

--

2002 Jun

45

79

50

47

38

35

29

35

26

58

59

38

27

20

13

--

--

19

2001 Jun

60

66

50

44

38

36

26

34

26

48

57

40

--

28

15

28

37

--

2000 Jun

56

64

47

46

37

37

24

36

25

42

54

40

24

29

16

--

--

--

1999 Jun

58

68

49

43

36

33

26

34

28

49

57

40

23

30

17

--

--

--

1998 Jun

59

64

50

40

37

33

28

34

26

53

58

40

24

30

--

--

--

--

1997 Jul

56

60

50

41

40

35

22

34

23

49

59

38

19

28

--

--

--

--

1996 May

57

66

45

44

38

32

20

36

25

39

60

42

19

24

--

--

--

--

1995 Apr

57

64

44

43

40

30

21

33

26

45

58

41

20

21

--

--

--

--

1994 Mar

54

64

42

35

34

29

18

35

26

38

54

36

15

26

--

--

--

--

1993 Mar

53

68

44

37

39

31

18

46

26

43

52

34

17

22

--

--

--

--

1991 Oct

56

69

39

30

35

32

18

--

22

50

--

--

--

22

--

--

--

--

1991 Mar

59

85

48

32

44

32

30

--

25

72

--

--

--

26

--

--

--

--

1990 Aug

56

68

47

36

45

39

24

--

27

--

--

--

--

25

--

--

--

--

1989 Sep

52

63

46

42

43

--

32

--

--

--

--

--

--

--

--

--

--

--

1988 Sep

59

68

56

49

49

36

35

--

26

--

--

--

--

25

--

--

--

--

1987 Jul

61

61

52

51

50

31

--

--

26

--

--

--

--

--

--

--

--

--

1986 Jul

57

63

54

49

49

37

41

--

29

--

--

--

--

28

--

--

--

--

1985 May

66

61

56

51

48

35

39

--

28

--

--

--

--

31

--

--

--

--

1984 Oct

64

58

51

51

47

34

29

--

30

--

--

--

--

29

--

--

--

--

1983 Aug

62

53

42

51

39

38

28

--

26

--

--

--

--

28

--

--

--

--

1981 Nov

64

50

46

46

42

35

29

--

28

--

--

--

--

20

--

--

--

--

1979 Apr

65

54

45

60

53

51

34

--

36

--

--

--

--

32

--

--

--

--

1977 Jan

64

57

46

--

54

--

40

--

39

--

--

--

--

33

--

--

--

--

1975 May

68

58

49

--

--

--

40

--

38

--

--

--

--

34

--

--

--

--

1973 May

66

--

44

--

58

39

42

--

30

--

--

--

--

26

--

--

--

--

KEY:

A.

The church or organized religion

G.

Congress

M.

The criminal justice system

B.

The military

H.

Television news

N.

Big business

C.

The U.S. Supreme Court

I.

Organized labor

O.

Health Maintenance Organizations (HMOs)

D.

Banks

J.

The presidency

P.

The electric power utilities

E.

The public schools

K.

The police

Q.

Faith-based charitable organizations

F.

Newspapers

L.

The medical system

R.

Wall Street

Gallup http://www.gallup.com/poll/8668/Military-Police-Top-Gallups-Annual-Confidence-Institutions-Poll.aspx Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A +1 202.715.3030