Americans’ confidence in all three branches of government is at or near record lows, according to a major survey that has measured attitudes on the subject for 40 years.
The 2014 General Social Survey finds only 23 percent of Americans have a great deal of confidence in the Supreme Court, 11 percent in the executive branch and 5 percent in Congress. By contrast, half have a great deal of confidence in the military.
The survey is conducted by the independent research organization NORC at the University of Chicago. Because of its long-running and comprehensive set of questions about the public, it is a highly regarded source of data about social trends. Data from the 2014 survey was released last week, and an analysis of its findings on confidence in institutions was conducted by The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research and the General Social Survey.
Five things to know about Americans’ low confidence in the government and other institutions:
DROP IN SUPPORT FOR PRESIDENCY DRIVEN BY REPUBLICANS
The 11 percent who say they’re confident in the presidency approaches a record low measured by the same survey in 1996, when just 10 percent said they had a great deal of confidence in the executive branch. The 44 percent who now say they have hardly any confidence at all is at a record high.
Historically, and not surprisingly, the survey has found that Democrats have more confidence in the executive branch when the sitting president is a Democrat, and Republicans have more confidence when the president is a Republican. In the 2014 survey, just 3 percent of Republicans say they have a lot of confidence in the presidency, down from a record high 45 percent who said so in 2002, when overall confidence in the presidency was also at the highest point the survey has measured, at 27 percent. Then, President George W. Bush was still riding a crest of support in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
But confidence among Democrats has dropped some in recent years, too, from 25 percent in 2010 to 18 percent in 2014.
Just 1 in 10 independents expressed a lot of confidence in the presidency in 2014.
SUPREME COURT CONFIDENCE FALLING ACROSS PARTY LINES
The 2014 survey finds that confidence in the Supreme Court has fallen among Democrats, Republicans and independents since 2012, driving confidence in the court to a 40-year low overall. The 26 percent of Democrats with a lot of confidence in the court is a record low in the history of the survey, while Republican confidence in the high court, at 22 percent, is also near an all-time low.
Independents are the least likely to have a great deal of confidence in the court, at 20 percent.
Overall, 2 in 10 say they have hardly any confidence in the court, a record high, while more than half have only some confidence.
NOBODY LIKES CONGRESS
If there’s one issue than unites Americans, it’s that hardly anyone has much confidence in Congress, the survey shows. Over half of Americans express hardly any confidence at all, while only 7 percent of Democrats, 5 percent of independents and 3 percent of Republicans have a great deal of confidence in Congress.
Younger Americans – those under 35 – are a bit more likely than older ones to express confidence in Congress, but even among that group only 10 percent say they have a lot of confidence in the legislative branch.
POOR MARKS FOR MEDIA, TOO
Confidence has decreased since the 1970s, when about a quarter of Americans expressed a great deal of confidence in the press. Now, a record low of 7 percent have a lot of confidence, while 44 percent have hardly any confidence at all.
Republicans are the least likely to express a lot of confidence in the press, at only 3 percent, but Democrats aren’t far behind at 10 percent.
Only 1 in 10 has a lot of confidence in television, which is also near a record low.
FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS REBOUND BUT STILL LOW
Americans’ confidence in banks and financial institutions reached an all-time low of 11 percent in 2010, but has rebounded slightly since then, with 15 percent now expressing a great deal of confidence. That’s still far from the survey’s all-time high of 42 percent in 1977.
Just 18 percent have a great deal of confidence in major companies, up a bit from 13 percent who said so in 2010 but down from 31 percent who said so in 1984.
Only 1 in 10 Americans has a lot of confidence in organized labor.
The General Social Survey is administered by NORC at the University of Chicago, with financing from the National Science Foundation, primarily using in-person interviewing. The GSS started in 1972 and completed its 30th round in 2014.
The typical sample size was 1,500 prior to 1994, but increased to 2,700-3,000 until 2008, and decreased to 2,000 for the most recent surveys. Resulting margins of error are between plus or minus 3.1 percentage points for the smaller sample sizes and plus or minus 2.2 percentage points for the larger sample sizes at the 95 percent confidence level. The 2014 survey was conducted March 31-Oct. 11, 2014, among 2,538 American adults. The GSS 1972-2014 Cumulative File was used to produce the statistics presented.
Republished with permission of the Associated Press.