August 26, 2021

Study Finds Decline in American’s Confidence in US Institutions

Study Finds Decline in American’s Confidence in US Institutions 

By: Sydney Sheffield 

Gallup, a global analytics firm, published the results from a study indicating that American confidence in 14 major US institutions has decreased. While there was a slight increase at the beginning of the pandemic in 2020, between June 1, 2021 – July 5, 2021, confidence dropped three percentage points. On average, 33% of Americans express "a great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in the 14 institutions. 

This survey, which sampled over 1,380 adults living in all US states and the District of Columbia during the current survey set, began in 1973 during the Watergate scandal. Since 1993, Gallup has tracked 14 core institutions and the public’s confidence. During the last 15 years, confidence has remained below 36%. Before 2006, confidence was typically above 40%. 

The intuitions investigated were the police, organized religion or the church, the military, small businesses, the Supreme Court, big businesses, banks, the criminal justice system, Congress, large technology companies, the medical system, television news, organized labor, the public school system, newspapers, and the presidency. 

In 2020, confidence in several institutions, mainly the medical system, public school system, small business, organized religion, and banks, rose to a higher level than in the previous two years. The medical system particularly jumped 15 percentage points in a single year of adults who say they have "a great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in the medical system. This is the highest degree of confidence in the medical system since Gallup began the survey. Public school systems also increased 12 percentage points due to the drastic changes teachers, administrators, and staff had to endure during the start of the pandemic. Gallup noted that double-digit increases year-to-year are extremely rare, occurring only nine times in four decades, so these findings are noteworthy. 

In 2021 however, Gallup found that the same five institutions, the medical system, public school system, small business, organized religion, and banks showed the greatest decreases in confidence. The percentage of confidence in these institutions is still higher than in 2019, though. Certain institutions, such as the Supreme Court and criminal justice systems, also decreased between 2020 and 2021 and are well below their 2019 levels. The military, technology companies, organized labor, newspapers, television news, the presidency, big business, and Congress also decreased but not significantly. 

The police are the only institution that increased in confidence between 2020 and 2021. The 2020 confidence in the police score was the lowest on record and the first time it has been below majority level. It is worth noting the 2020 Gallup survey was taken during the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder and nationwide protests. In 2021, small businesses, the military, and the police are the only institutions that American’s confidence scores are above 50%. 

Check out the completed question responses and trends here