Who do you trust?
Likely the answer includes family members and friends. Some responses may also include coworkers or religious leaders. But how many would highlight trust in elected officials? Health care providers? Law enforcement? News outlets?
Studies have shown trust in many of the institutions at the center of our society has eroded.
The Pew Research Center released an updated study in May 2021 showing trust in public government remains low — only about one-quarter of Americans say they “can trust the government in Washington, D.C., to do what is right ‘just about always’ (2%) or ‘most of the time’ (22%).” The level of trust in federal government largely has to do with which political party controls the presidency. When a Republican is in office, Republican trust in government grows. When a Democrat is in office, trust among Democrats grows.
Pew has also documented a decline in trust for national and local news organizations and social media. In just five years, the study found, Republicans with at least some trust in national news organizations has been cut in half. Even trust in local news organizations declined — with 75% saying they have “at least some trust” in information from local news organizations. That number was 82% in 2016 and 79% in 2019.
Law enforcement — typically held in high regard in terms of trust — also experienced declines in public confidence due to some high-profile incidents.
According to polling conducted by Gallup, public confidence in the police declined in 2014 and 2015, rebounded in 2017 then declined again in 2018 and 2019. In 2019, 53% of respondents to the poll said they have a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the police.
A study commissioned by the American Board of Internal Medicine Foundation, conducted by the National Opinion Research Center and released in the spring of 2021 showed while trust in clinicians is greater than the health care system as a whole, physician trust decreased during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This erosion of trust will not bode well for the future of our country.
Fourth Judicial District Court Judge John Fenn noted at a recent event celebrating the U.S. Constitution that trust in the document and in the institutions that work within it are what make our government — and our country — possible.
If the legitimacy of public institutions continues to decline, the social contract outlining how we live and work together falls apart.
Certainly, members of each institution in question have done things to actively hurt that trust. And those who question the morality and fairness of each are not without cause. Our nation and our world also face big questions that must consider individual freedom and an increasingly global society.
At the root of the mistrust, though, is a declining belief in each other.
In 2019, Pew Research Center found 64% of those surveyed believe Americans’ trust in each other is shrinking. While the study notes a laundry list of reasons for the decline, overall, 49% of adults think interpersonal trust has fallen “because people are less reliable than they used to be.”
All hope, though, is not lost. More than eight in 10 Americans believe trust in government can be restored and 86% believe it is possible to improve confidence in each other.
That must happen at a local level first. Examine who you trust and why. Examine how you can be a more trustworthy and reliable community member. Consider how you can work across differences to find solutions to community problems. Get involved. Inform yourself.
Each resident in the U.S. has a role in restoring trust and therefore building on the strength of our country. The time for blame has passed.