Falling Trust in Government: Why Change Must Come

Do you trust the government? For most Americans, the answer to that question isn’t a simple yes or no.

The 2019 edition of the Pew Research Center’s study of trust was conducted in the later part of 2018 with 10,618 adults in the United States participating. Respondents were asked a variety of questions intended to indicate their levels of trust (or mistrust) in various aspects of government. The results definitively show a low level of trust, but also point to hope that this sentiment can be reversed and progress can be made.

What voters and government officials must deal with now, however, is the current state of affairs in the U.S. A low level of trust in the government, as well as between individuals, can make it difficult for things to get done. These “things” refer to important matters such as passing new legislation, voting in new candidates, and even enacting change among individuals in how we treat each other and the respect with which we view the opinions of others.

What do these numbers point to? Generally speaking, Americans believe that trust in both the government as well as each other is waning. In fact, 75 percent of respondents polled agreed that trust levels were falling when it came to the government. Respondents were then asked to elaborate on their vote to provide more context to the sentiments behind the numbers.

Thirty six percent of these respondents said that their vote had to do with the recent performance of the government; this did not give them confidence and instead has caused them to lose trust. Others brought up the impact that money and corporations have on the actions (or inactions) of the government, while others preferred to place more blame squarely on the shoulders of specific individuals or parties.

In addition, 64 percent of respondents polled said that trust has also declined in interpersonal relationships. When asked to expand on this, respondents tended to allude to a society that is more lazy, entitled, and spends more time online than ever before as part of the problem. People are less reliable than before, respondents indicated, and this leads to a growing sense of disappointment on multiple levels. 

Continuing with this trend, respondents also indicated that this low level of trust has made it hard for the government to actually make headway on a variety of social and political issues. With a divisive, hyper-partisan environment permeating much of today’s political culture, it’s no wonder that there is a high level of gridlock currently happening in multiple wings of the government. Coming to an impasse in politics is almost never a positive thing, and yet we find ourselves paralyzed by conflict and disagreement in many areas.

Can this be fixed? Pew Research’s study says there is hope. Respondents voiced a majority opinion (84 percent) that things could be turned around and the course righted. As ways that the government could improve this tanking trust, some pointed to a need for more transparency in government dealings, more limits and checks specifically with term limits and corporate involvement, and a greater sense of honesty and integrity from politicians. 

It can be difficult to make any progress when so much opposition, gridlock, and mistrust stands in the way. However, this research provides valuable insight for those who truly wish to make a difference and restore trust in American society and institutions.

Grassroots Pulse covers public policy and political issues aimed at engaging highly-active policy makers, donors, and grassroots leaders at the forefront of the political process in America today.

Image credit: Photo by Jacob Creswick on Unsplash

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