Untrusted Washington

Gallup has recently published two stories, both based upon an early September poll, that reveal just how little Americans trust Washington these days.  The first story shows the radical decline in popular trust and confidence in the three branches of the federal government.  The question posed to respondents dealt not with support for policies or particular political figures, but with the “trust and confidence” in the institutions themselves.

A breathtaking 28% of Americans have stated “none at all” as their level of confidence in the “Executive branch headed by the President.”  No president but Obama has ever scored this low in popular trust.  At the height of Watergate, only 20% of respondents gave this lowest possible rating to an executive branch headed by Richard Nixon.  The 14% of Americans in the September 2014 poll who expressed a “great deal” of confidence in the Executive Branch approached the lowest levels ever recorded by Gallup for this question.

The “none at all” level of confidence and trust for Congress was not as bad as the president, “20%,” which is actually two points higher than in September 2013.  But the percentage of Americans who have a “great deal” of confidence and trust in Congress is so low as to almost be a rounding error: 3% of Americans have real trust in Congress, the lowest rating Gallup has ever reported.

The Judicial Branch “headed by the Supreme Court” scores much better, with 61% having a “great deal” or “a fair amount” of trust in this branch – an all-time low, but still much better than the president or Congress.  This is a bit deceptive, however, because the percentage of Americans who have a “great deal” of confidence in the Judicial Branch is an historic low – only 10% of Americans – while the percentage of Americans who state that their trust and confidence in the Judicial Branch is “none at all” is 9%, the highest level of distrust Gallup has ever reported.

The second Gallup story, based upon the same poll, focuses on how Americans rate the federal government to handle domestic problems and international problems.  The percentage of Americans who state “none at all” as their level of confidence of the federal government to handle domestic problems is 17%, the highest level ever recorded, although the percentage of Americans who have a “great deal” of confidence is 8%, which is far from an historic low.  The overall positive rating of the federal government to handle domestic problems – the sum of “great deal” and “fair amount” of confidence and trust – is 40%, the lowest ever reported by Gallup.

Domestic problems are the province not just of the president, but of Congress, and, to some extent, of the Supreme Court as well.  International problems, however, are almost entirely the province of the president, and so if the greatest nexus of popular distrust is Obama, Gallup will have found the poll numbers in this area to reflect that nadir of trust and confidence.

That is precisely what the poll numbers of “trust and confidence” in the federal government show.  Although the 9% of Americans who have a “great deal” of confidence in the federal government’s ability to handle international problems is not quite the lowest ever recorded, the sum of the two positive poll numbers “great deal” and “fair amount” are only 43%, which is a record low by quite a margin.  (The next-lowest rating was 49% in September 2013.) 

Surely most troubling for Americans who see an increasingly dangerous world is the fact that a whopping 19% of Americans, easily the highest percentage ever, list “none at all” as the level of confidence that they have in the federal government handling international problems.  As an example of how dreadfully that number has fallen, Nixon, when Watergate was at its worst and the Vietnam War was still a hot issue, had only 4% of Americans state “none at all” as their trust in the federal government handling international problems.  The percentage of Americans who have overall negative levels of “trust and confidence” in the federal government handling international problems is 55%, by far the highest level ever reported by Gallup.

While this reflects horribly on Obama, our worst president ever, it also reflects – as confidence in Congress and the Supreme Court shows – a federal government that has for the first time in our nation’s history essentially lost the trust of the governed.  Washington is the problem, and increasingly, that is the political truth that the American people see.

Gallup has recently published two stories, both based upon an early September poll, that reveal just how little Americans trust Washington these days.  The first story shows the radical decline in popular trust and confidence in the three branches of the federal government.  The question posed to respondents dealt not with support for policies or particular political figures, but with the “trust and confidence” in the institutions themselves.

A breathtaking 28% of Americans have stated “none at all” as their level of confidence in the “Executive branch headed by the President.”  No president but Obama has ever scored this low in popular trust.  At the height of Watergate, only 20% of respondents gave this lowest possible rating to an executive branch headed by Richard Nixon.  The 14% of Americans in the September 2014 poll who expressed a “great deal” of confidence in the Executive Branch approached the lowest levels ever recorded by Gallup for this question.

The “none at all” level of confidence and trust for Congress was not as bad as the president, “20%,” which is actually two points higher than in September 2013.  But the percentage of Americans who have a “great deal” of confidence and trust in Congress is so low as to almost be a rounding error: 3% of Americans have real trust in Congress, the lowest rating Gallup has ever reported.

The Judicial Branch “headed by the Supreme Court” scores much better, with 61% having a “great deal” or “a fair amount” of trust in this branch – an all-time low, but still much better than the president or Congress.  This is a bit deceptive, however, because the percentage of Americans who have a “great deal” of confidence in the Judicial Branch is an historic low – only 10% of Americans – while the percentage of Americans who state that their trust and confidence in the Judicial Branch is “none at all” is 9%, the highest level of distrust Gallup has ever reported.

The second Gallup story, based upon the same poll, focuses on how Americans rate the federal government to handle domestic problems and international problems.  The percentage of Americans who state “none at all” as their level of confidence of the federal government to handle domestic problems is 17%, the highest level ever recorded, although the percentage of Americans who have a “great deal” of confidence is 8%, which is far from an historic low.  The overall positive rating of the federal government to handle domestic problems – the sum of “great deal” and “fair amount” of confidence and trust – is 40%, the lowest ever reported by Gallup.

Domestic problems are the province not just of the president, but of Congress, and, to some extent, of the Supreme Court as well.  International problems, however, are almost entirely the province of the president, and so if the greatest nexus of popular distrust is Obama, Gallup will have found the poll numbers in this area to reflect that nadir of trust and confidence.

That is precisely what the poll numbers of “trust and confidence” in the federal government show.  Although the 9% of Americans who have a “great deal” of confidence in the federal government’s ability to handle international problems is not quite the lowest ever recorded, the sum of the two positive poll numbers “great deal” and “fair amount” are only 43%, which is a record low by quite a margin.  (The next-lowest rating was 49% in September 2013.) 

Surely most troubling for Americans who see an increasingly dangerous world is the fact that a whopping 19% of Americans, easily the highest percentage ever, list “none at all” as the level of confidence that they have in the federal government handling international problems.  As an example of how dreadfully that number has fallen, Nixon, when Watergate was at its worst and the Vietnam War was still a hot issue, had only 4% of Americans state “none at all” as their trust in the federal government handling international problems.  The percentage of Americans who have overall negative levels of “trust and confidence” in the federal government handling international problems is 55%, by far the highest level ever reported by Gallup.

While this reflects horribly on Obama, our worst president ever, it also reflects – as confidence in Congress and the Supreme Court shows – a federal government that has for the first time in our nation’s history essentially lost the trust of the governed.  Washington is the problem, and increasingly, that is the political truth that the American people see.