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Americans Say Distrust in Government, Other People Frustrating Efforts to Solve Biggest Problems


Immigration activists rally outside the Supreme Court as the justices hear arguments over the Trump administration's plan to ask about citizenship on the 2020 census, in Washington, Tuesday, April 23, 2019.

Most Americans think that tanking levels of distrust in the government and in other people are hindering efforts to solve pervasive, persistent issues, ranging from immigration and racism to healthcare, taxes and voting rights. Pew Research Center released results for the poll on Monday. It was conducted from November to December 2018 and included over 10,000 adults.

“Many people no longer think the federal government can actually be a force for good or change in their lives,” Pew quoted one survey participant as saying. “This kind of apathy and disengagement will lead to an even worse and less representative government.”

Nearly 70% of Americans say the federal government purposely withholds information that it could safely release, and a further 64% say that when elected officials speak, it’s hard to tell what’s true and what isn’t.

Public confidence in government, which dipped in the 60s and 70s, made a recovery in the 80s and early 2000s, according to an April Pew poll. Now, at 17%, the American populace’s trust in government is near historic lows.

And a large majority of people think this distrust is justified, with 75% answering that the government shouldn’t have more public confidence than it does.

Republicans and Republican-leaning respondents were more likely to pin the blame for distrust on corruption and poor government performance, while their Democrat and Democrat-leaning counterparts were more likely to point at U.S. President Donald Trump’s performance.

Confidence in other people has dropped too, but most prominently when politics come into the mix. While majorities trust others to “do the right thing,” such as in following the law, this changes when it comes to accepting election results, voting in informed ways, reconsidering views upon learning new information and a host of other situations.

Trust in others differed based on race, age, income and education, with older, richer and more educated participants holding higher levels of personal trust. White people had high levels of trust for others 27% of the time, more than double the share of black and Hispanic respondents.

“Americans who might feel disadvantaged are less likely to express generalized trust in other people,” Pew noted.

Strikingly, Republicans and Democrats held similar levels of personal trust in others, but had markedly different views regarding the government, with Republicans expressing more general confidence.

Why does public trust in government matter? Besides being the basis of any government that proclaims its power is drawn from the people, 64% of Americans say low trust in government is hampering responses to the country’s biggest problems. Exactly 70% think the same for distrust in other people. Solutions to persistent, divisive issues, like immigration, healthcare, taxes, voting rights and gerrymandering, were suffering, survey respondents said.

However, fully 84% of participants thought low confidence in the federal government could be remedied. In open comments, participants suggested solutions, including tamping down political partisanship and minimizing sensationalist he-said-she-said media coverage.

“Trust is the glue that binds humans together. Without it, we cooperate with one another less, and variables in our overall quality of life are affected,” wrote one 38-year-old man.

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