Is the American people’s trust in our government declining? According to most people, it definitely is. Recent polls make this argument very valid. In 1995, the Princeton Survey Research Associates conducted a telephone interview of 1514 randomly sampled adults. In this interview, people were asked how much of the time they trusted the federal government to do the right thing. Twenty-one percent said most of the time, and seventy-one percent said only some of the time.
When asked the same question about their state governments, the results were only slightly better. Thirty percent said most of the time” and sixty-two percent said “only some of the time.” This indicates that a majority of the American people believe that the American government is not doing the right thing in many of the actions it takes. Of course, nobody expects the government to operate perfectly with no mistakes because this is not a perfect world. However, these numbers are too high. What caused this problem in the United States? What is the extent of this problem in our country? Is this distrust of our government even a serious problem at all? These are three questions that need to be addressed in our society today.
What has caused the American people to distrust our government, and when did this trend begin? I do not believe there is any clear answer to these questions, and it would not be possible to pinpoint any exact reason for the feelings of the American people. One reason cited by some is poor leadership. Two commonly blamed leaders are President Johnson and President Nixon. Two of the biggest drops in the public’s confidence in our government occurred in 1964 during the bombing of Vietnam and in 1972 during Watergate (Nye). Although these events may have contributed to the distrust of the American government, I do not believe that two events and two leaders can be held totally responsible. For one thing, these events occurred over twenty years ago. Why is there still distrust today?
Not only does this distrust still exist, but many would say that it has increased greatly since then. I do not think that two leaders can be pinpointed and blamed for destroying the trust in our government. Perhaps, though, the blame could be laid on American political leaders in general. In a 1995 poll, thirty-five percent said the main reason that they do not trust the federal government is that politicians lack honesty and integrity.
Another 24% cited politicians’ lack of concern for the interests and well-being of the people as the reason for their distrust (Why Don’t”). It makes sense that if Americans do not trust the people who make up our government, they will not trust the government as a whole. How widespread is the problem of distrust in the American government? The Post/ABC News polling organization conducted seven polls between 1985-1987, asking, “How much of the time do you trust the government in Washington to do what is right?” Those who said only some of the time or never ranged from 56% to 62% (Dewey). A 1994 poll showed that only 15% of the American public had confidence in our federal government, and only 30% had confidence in their state and local governments.
Some people may want to believe that distrust of the United States government is limited to only a small segment of the population, such as the lower class. These polls indicate otherwise. It appears that a vast majority of Americans have very little trust in our political leaders. It is clear that distrust of the government is widespread, but is it a serious problem? Does it matter if people do not trust their government, or is it something that should be expected? Many people state that cynicism and distrust in America are not a problem at all. One opinion is that mistrust of government has been around since our country’s beginning and is nothing to worry about. It is even noted that our country was founded with a mistrust of government, in particular, mistrust of King George of England (Nye).
Another opinion is that although Americans do not trust the everyday activities of the government, there is still a positive attitude about the underlying constitutional principles upon which this country was founded. This is the most important thing to consider. Eighty percent of Americans consider the United States the best place in the world to live, and ninety percent say that they like the democratic system of government (Nye). Not every aspect of American government is mistrusted by the American people. For example, the military has greatly improved its ratings from the time after Vietnam to the period after the Gulf War (Nye). Seventy percent of Americans say that they have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in our military, according to a 1995 poll (“Why Don’t”).
This indicates that there is still hope for citizens to gain back trust in our government. It is evident that overall there is a mistrust in our government in the United States. This is something that has become widespread in the United States. The majority of people do not trust our government. It is unclear what caused this trend, but it can certainly be related to the type of politicians that are being elected in our country and the people’s feelings towards those officials.
Although some do not believe it is really a problem, it would be nice to be able to place some faith and trust in the people who lead and direct this country. It appears that the only way to do that is to elect individual people that we can trust and the only way to accomplish that is to become educated on the issues and vote.