Friday, May 8, 2009

Confidence in Major institutions

I'm always a sucker for surveys and one of my favorites is tracking people's confidence or trust in major institutions such as Congress, the military, the press, and all the rest. You can tell a lot about the whims of public opinion by examining them over time.

Using Harris poll data drawn from here, let's look at a few.

The Press. Of course I start here, being a journalism guy. Since 2002 the press has seen a high of 16 percent saying they have "a great deal of confidence" to a low of 2009, where it sits at 12 percent. Still, that's probably within the margin of error. There's also a category for Television News and the latest number was 22 percent. It's bounced around the 20 mark for several years.

Colleges and Universities. Gotta go here too given that a major university pays my salary. This has actually gone up from a low of 33 percent with "great confidence" to 40 percent this year. Woo woo! We rock.

Wall Street. Oh what a beating Wall Street has taken, so it's no surprise that the richies have dropped from 19 to 4 percent of people having great confidence. Four percent? That's the lowest of any of the 16 institutions examined. Even Congress, which has slipped to 9 percent from a high of 22 percent.

Organized Religion was at its lowest in 2002 but now is at 28 percent. Not bad.

Overall, most major institutions have seen a drop in confidence over time. This is nothing new. I remember in graduate school reading a textbook, The Confidence Gap, that discussed the trend from the 1970s as trust in major institutions slowly eroded (in part a Watergate effect, in part Vietnam, in part everything else).

Coincidentally (not really) I am working on a research paper that examines trust in government and how being a winner or loser in an election affects your trust. Lots of people have mined this territory, including a couple of professors of mine in grad school, but I'm taking a different twist that, as far as I can tell, no one has explored yet. More when I get the blasted thing actually finished, but basically I'm looking at winners and losers and whether or not you expected to win (but lost) and how that may lead to even less trust. And there's media stuff there too. Sigh ... if I finish grading, maybe I can get back to it.


Concerned Citizen said...

I don't have a lot of confidence in polls.

Hollander said...

Heh heh.