Visualizing the Decline of Confidence in American Institutions
Every day, the public relies on a number of major institutions for services and safety. From banks and governments, to media and the military—these institutions play an important role in shaping life as we know it.
Yet, today’s interactive data visualization from Overflow Data shows that America’s confidence in institutions has drastically waned. The data relies on the General Social Survey (GSS) to provide a 40-year overview of how sentiment has changed with respect to 13 different institutions.
Select an institution from the drop-down menu below to see how confidence has changed over time
The Erosion of Confidence
Overall, confidence in most institutions has eroded. Americans find it especially hard to trust their government: the “great deal of confidence” metrics for Congress, the Supreme Court, and the Executive Branch were low to begin with, and have declined further since 1975.
That said, the biggest overall drop belongs to the press, which saw 50% of surveyed Americans saying they have “hardly any confidence” in it in 2016. This is nearly a three-fold increase from 1975, when that number was just 19%. Of course, with the rise of fake news in more recent years, the erosion of confidence in media doesn’t seem to be slowing down.
Here’s a look at the two extremes of sentiment regarding the studied institutions, showing how the opposite measures of “hardly any confidence” and a “great deal of confidence” have changed since 1975:
|🏦 Banks & Financial Institutions||Hardly any||10.9%||31.2%||+20.3 p.p.|
|Great deal||32.3%||14.1%||-18.2 p.p.|
|🗳️ Congress||Hardly any||26.2%||52.6%||+26.4 p.p.|
|Great deal||13.6%||5.9%||-7.7 p.p.|
|🏫 Education||Hardly any||13.0%||17.5%||+4.5 p.p.|
|Great deal||31.5%||25.6%||-5.9 p.p.|
|🏛️ Executive Branch||Hardly any||29.7%||42.4%||+12.7 p.p.|
|Great deal||13.4%||12.8%||-0.6 p.p.|
|🏬 Major Companies||Hardly any||22.9%||17.3%||-5.6 p.p.|
|Great deal||20.5%||18.3%||-2.2 p.p.|
|🏥 Medicine||Hardly any||17.8%||13.4%||-4.4 p.p.|
|Great deal||51.8%||50.6%||-1.2 p.p.|
|🎖️ Military||Hardly any||14.8%||7.6%||-7.2 p.p.|
|Great deal||36.3%||53.4%||+17.1 p.p.|
|💪 Organized Labor||Hardly any||31.5%||22.6%||-8.9 p.p.|
|Great deal||10.2%||13.9%||+3.7 p.p.|
|🙏 Religion||Hardly any||23.0%||26.4%||+3.4 p.p.|
|Great deal||25.8%||20.0%||-5.8 p.p.|
|📰 Press||Hardly any||19.0%||50.0%||+31 p.p.|
|Great deal||24.5%||7.6%||-16.9 p.p.|
|🥼 Scientific Community||Hardly any||7.4%||6.1%||-1.3 p.p.|
|Great deal||41.7%||42.1%||+0.4 p.p.|
|📺 Television||Hardly any||23.4%||43.1%||+19.7 p.p.|
|Great deal||18.4%||9.8%||-8.6 p.p.|
|⚖️ U.S. Supreme Court||Hardly any||19.2%||17.4%||-1.8 p.p.|
|Great deal||31.8%||26.3%||-5.5 p.p.|
Banks and financial institutions have also suffered a bad rep in the public eye. Their “great deal of confidence” metric has dropped sharply from 32.3% to 14.1% in four decades.
One major exception is the military, which emerges as the most trusted institution. Americans’ faith in the military has also shown the most improvement, with a 17.1 p.p increase in a “great deal of confidence” since 1975.
The Split Widens Further
While measuring public confidence in institutions can be subjective, it provides an understanding of where Americans want to see change and reform take place.
For more on how Americans perceive different institutions and the issues that affect them, see how the public is divided based on political affiliation.
Charted: The Number of Democracies Globally
How many democracies does the world have? This visual shows the change since 1945 and the top nations becoming more (and less) democratic.
Charted: The Number of Democracies Globally
The end of World War II in 1945 was a turning point for democracies around the world.
Before this critical turning point in geopolitics, democracies made up only a small number of the world’s countries, both legally and in practice. However, over the course of the next six decades, the number of democratic nations would more than quadruple.
Interestingly, studies have found that this trend has recently reversed as of the 2010s, with democracies and non-democracies now in a deadlock.
In this visualization, Staffan Landin uses data from V-DEM’s Electoral Democratic Index (EDI) to highlight the changing face of global politics over the past two decades and the nations that contributed the most to this change.
V-DEM’s EDI attempts to measure democratic development in a comprehensive way, through the contributions of 3,700 experts from countries around the world.
Instead of relying on each nation’s legally recognized system of government, the EDI analyzes the level of electoral democracy in countries on a range of indicators, including:
- Free and fair elections
- Rule of law
- Alternative sources of information and association
- Freedom of expression
Countries are assigned a score on a scale from 0 to 1, with higher scores indicating a higher level of democracy. Each is also categorized into four types of functional government, from liberal and electoral democracies to electoral and closed autocracies.
Which Countries Have Declined the Most?
The EDI found that numerous countries around the world saw declines in democracy over the past two decades. Here are the 10 countries that saw the steepest decline in EDI score since 2010:
|Country||Democracy Index (2010)||Democracy Index (2022)||Points Lost|
Central and Eastern Europe was home to three of the countries seeing the largest declines in democracy. Hungary, Poland, and Serbia lead the table, with Hungary and Serbia in particular dropping below scores of 0.5.
Some of the world’s largest countries by population also decreased significantly, including India and Brazil. Across most of the top 10, the “freedom of expression” indicator was hit particularly hard, with notable increases in media censorship to be found in Afghanistan and Brazil.
Countries Becoming More Democratic
Here are the 10 countries that saw the largest increase in EDI score since 2010:
|Country||Democracy Index (2010)||Democracy Index (2022)||Points Gained|
|🇬🇲 The Gambia||0.25||0.50||+25|
|🇱🇰 Sri Lanka||0.42||0.57||+15|
Armenia, Fiji, and Seychelles saw significant improvement in the autonomy of their electoral management bodies in the last 10 years. Partially as a result, both Armenia and Seychelles have seen their scores rise above 0.5.
The Gambia also saw great improvement across many election indicators, including the quality of voter registries, vote buying, and election violence. It was one of five African countries to make the top 10 most improved democracies.
With the total number of democracies and non-democracies almost tied over the past four years, it is hard to predict the political atmosphere in the future.
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