It’s not just the media institutions — Americans’ trust in the federal government, and each other, is dropping. But they do think it’s important to repair the relationships (and they shared some ideas for how).
A new, quite substantial report from the Pew Research Center found that 75 percent of Americans think trust in the federal government has slipped but 68 percent say improving it is a priority; more than 60 percent of people think the media and federal government withhold information they should know or ignores information that should be more important. The researchers looked closely at trust and distrust across institutions in surveying 10,618 respondents last fall, including the participants who shared these thoughts:
“As a democracy founded on the principle of E Pluribus Unum, the fact that we are divided and can’t trust sound facts means we have lost our confidence in each other.”
“Everything is impacted by the lack of trust — and the driver of the declining trust is the head of the federal government. Trust cannot be repaired without truth — which is in short supply.”
“Get to know your local community. Take small steps towards improving daily life, even if it’s just a trash pick-up. If people feel engaged with their environment and with each other, and they can work together even in a small way, I think that builds a foundation for working together on more weighty issues.”
The levels of trust in different entities (unsurprisingly) varies across ages, educational attainment, and other demographic backgrounds. The researchers wrote: “Personal trust turns out to be like many other personal attributes and goods that are arrayed unequally in society, following the same overall pattern as home ownership and wealth, for example. Americans who might feel disadvantaged are less likely to express generalized trust in other people.”
But young adults stand out for the most participants with lowest trust:
And hey, journalists: 47 percent of people Pew deemed “low-trusters” think you’ll act in the best interests of the public. That’s better than business leaders and elected officials, but behind professions like the military, public school principals, and scientists. Unsurprisingly at this point in the planet’s existence, that differs based on political party and age:
The report goes into detail on Americans’ levels of trust in each other and the government, but you, Nieman Lab reader, might want to know about trust in the news media. (Remember: trust is one part of the full formula for someone choosing to consume news.) 19 percent of respondents felt that the media is biased or focuses on opinions over facts, and 11 percent said the media ignores news about Trump’s accomplishments.
“The public’s lack of faith in the government’s and news media’s abilities to fully inform the public ties to the way Americans respond to various trust-related issues,” Pew researchers wrote. “For example, adults who say that the federal government intentionally withholds important information from the public are more likely than others to say that Americans’ trust in the federal government has been shrinking (80% vs. 63% among those who say the government does not release some useful information) and to say they are not confident that elected officials act in the public’s best interest (67% vs. 53%).”
Some solutions respondents proposed: more political compromise (with media coverage spotlighting it), random acts of kindness, getting to know people different than them, “elected officials with integrity”, and fewer special interest groups.