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.
How Much Do Americans Trust the Media?
Media trust among Americans has reached its lowest point since Trump won the 2016 presidential election.
How Much Do Americans Trust the Media?
Media trust among Americans has reached its lowest point in six years.
Gallup began its survey on media trust in 1972, repeating it in 1974 and 1976. After a long period, the public opinion firm restarted the polls in 1997 and has asked Americans about their confidence level in the mass media—newspapers, TV, and radio—almost every year since then.
The above graphic illustrates Gallup’s latest poll results, conducted in September 2023.
Americans’ Trust in Mass Media, 1972-2023
Americans’ confidence in the mass media has sharply declined over the last few decades.
|Trust in the mass media||% Great deal/Fair amount||% Not very much||% None at all|
In 2016, the number of respondents trusting media outlets fell below the tally of those who didn’t trust the media at all. This is the first time that has happened in the poll’s history.
That year was marked by sharp criticism of the media from then-presidential candidate Donald Trump.
In 2017, the use of the term ‘fake news’ rose by 365% on social media, and the term was named the word of the year by dictionary publisher Collins.
The Lack of Faith in Institutions and Social Media
Although there’s no single reason to explain the decline of trust in the traditional media, some studies point to potential drivers.
According to Michael Schudson, a sociologist and historian of the news media and a professor at the Columbia Journalism School, in the 1970s, faith in institutions like the White House or Congress began to decline, consequently impacting confidence in the media.
“That may have been a necessary corrective to a sense of complacency that had been creeping in—among the public and the news media—that allowed perhaps too much trust: we accepted President Eisenhower’s lies about the U-2 spy plane, President Kennedy’s lies about the ‘missile gap,’ President Johnson’s lies about the war in Vietnam, President Nixon’s lies about Watergate,”
Michael Schudson – Columbia Journalism School
More recently, the internet and social media have significantly changed how people consume media. The rise of platforms such as X/Twitter and Facebook have also disrupted the traditional media status quo.
Partisans’ Trust in Mass Media
Historically, Democrats have expressed more confidence in the media than Republicans.
Democrats’ trust, however, has fallen 12 points over the past year to 58%, compared with 11% among Republicans and 29% among independents.
According to Gallup, Republicans’ low confidence in the media has little room to worsen, but Democrat confidence could still deteriorate and bring the overall national reading down further.
The poll also shows that young Democrats have less confidence in the media than older Democrats, while Republicans are less varied in their views by age group.
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