Visualizing the Decline of Confidence in American Institutions
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Visualizing the Decline of Confidence in American Institutions

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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:

InstitutionConfidence level19752016Change
🏦 Banks & Financial Institutions Hardly any10.9%31.2%+20.3 p.p.
Great deal32.3%14.1%-18.2 p.p.
🗳️ CongressHardly any26.2%52.6%+26.4 p.p.
Great deal13.6%5.9%-7.7 p.p.
🏫 EducationHardly any13.0%17.5%+4.5 p.p.
Great deal31.5%25.6%-5.9 p.p.
🏛️ Executive BranchHardly any29.7%42.4%+12.7 p.p.
Great deal13.4%12.8%-0.6 p.p.
🏬 Major CompaniesHardly any22.9%17.3%-5.6 p.p.
Great deal20.5%18.3%-2.2 p.p.
🏥 MedicineHardly any17.8%13.4%-4.4 p.p.
Great deal51.8%50.6%-1.2 p.p.
🎖️ MilitaryHardly any14.8%7.6%-7.2 p.p.
Great deal36.3%53.4%+17.1 p.p.
💪 Organized LaborHardly any31.5%22.6%-8.9 p.p.
Great deal10.2%13.9%+3.7 p.p.
🙏 ReligionHardly any23.0%26.4%+3.4 p.p.
Great deal25.8%20.0%-5.8 p.p.
📰 PressHardly any19.0%50.0%+31 p.p.
Great deal24.5%7.6%-16.9 p.p.
🥼 Scientific CommunityHardly any7.4%6.1%-1.3 p.p.
Great deal41.7%42.1%+0.4 p.p.
📺 TelevisionHardly any23.4%43.1%+19.7 p.p.
Great deal18.4%9.8%-8.6 p.p.
⚖️ U.S. Supreme CourtHardly any19.2%17.4%-1.8 p.p.
Great deal31.8%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.

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Politics

This is How Much NATO Countries Spend on Defense

How much does each country in the military alliance contribute to NATO defense spending? We break it down with this map.

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Visualizing the Defense Spending of Each NATO country

This Is How Much NATO Countries Spend on Defense

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) exists for the sole purpose of facilitating a political and military alliance between almost 30 countries. All are obligated to one another in times of war, but some countries have much stronger militaries and defense systems than others.

Using data from NATO, this map reveals what each NATO member country spends on its own national defense.

Note: Numbers are 2021 projections.

Biggest NATO Defense Spenders

The U.S. spends more on defense than any other NATO country.

According to the 2021 estimates, U.S. defense spending will be close to $811 billion this year. On the other hand, the defense spending of all other NATO countries combined is projected to be $363 billion, meaning the U.S. will outspend all other countries by a whopping $448 billion.

RankCountryMillions (USD) 2021pChange (2014-2021)
#1🇺🇸 United States$811,14024.0%
#2🇬🇧 United Kingdom$72,76510.8%
#3🇩🇪 Germany$64,78540.3%
#4🇫🇷 France$58,72912.9%
#5🇮🇹 Italy$29,76321.5%
#6🇨🇦 Canada$26,52346.0%
#7🇪🇸 Spain$14,87517.7%
#8🇳🇱 Netherlands$14,37838.9%
#9🇵🇱 Poland$13,36932.3%
#10🇹🇷 Turkey$13,057-3.8%
#11🇳🇴 Norway$8,2927.4%
#12🇬🇷 Greece$8,01453.1%
#13🇧🇪 Belgium$6,50325.1%
#14🇷🇴 Romania$5,785114.9%
#15🇩🇰 Denmark$5,52236.1%
#16🇨🇿 Czech Republic$4,013103.2%
#17🇵🇹 Portugal$3,97532.2%
#18🇭🇺 Hungary$2,907140.3%
#19🇸🇰 Slovakia$2,043104.6%
#20🇭🇷 Croatia$1,84673.6%
#21🇱🇹 Lithuania$1,278198.8%
#22🇧🇬 Bulgaria$1,25367.7%
#23🇱🇻 Latvia$851189.9%
#24🇪🇪 Estonia$78753.2%
#25🇸🇮 Slovenia$76056.0%
#26🇱🇺 Luxembourg$47487.4%
#27🇦🇱 Albania$23933.8%
#28🇲🇰 North Macedonia$21976.6%
#29🇲🇪 Montenegro$9740.0%

NATO is based on building up forces and equipment for the goal of joint security and defense. And, despite the pandemic, many members did increase their spending in 2020.

However, not all countries contribute equally. The agreed-upon target for European NATO members, for example, is to spend 2% of GDP on defense by 2024, but many countries are not on track to meet this goal.

Who Pays for NATO Itself?

One of the key pillars of NATO is collective defense: a commitment to the idea that an act of violence against one or more of its member states is an act of aggression towards all.

Collective defense, cooperative security, and crisis management are at the heart of NATO’s purpose and operations.

Apart from defense spending, running a transcontinental political alliance costs around $3 billion annually. So which countries foot the bill for these expenses?

CountryCost Share Arrangements
(2021-2024)
🇺🇸 United States16.36%
🇩🇪 Germany16.36%
🇬🇧 United Kingdom11.29%
🇫🇷 France10.50%
🇮🇹 Italy8.79%
🇨🇦 Canada6.88%
🇪🇸 Spain6.00%
🇹🇷 Turkey4.73%
🇳🇱 Netherlands3.45%
🇵🇱 Poland2.99%
🇧🇪 Belgium2.11%
🇳🇴 Norway1.78%
🇩🇰 Denmark1.31%
🇷🇴 Romania1.23%
🇬🇷 Greece1.06%
🇨🇿 Czech Republic1.06%
🇵🇹 Portugal1.05%
🇭🇺 Hungary0.76%
🇸🇰 Slovakia0.52%
🇧🇬 Bulgaria0.37%
🇭🇷 Croatia0.30%
🇱🇹 Lithuania0.26%
🇸🇮 Slovenia0.23%
🇱🇺 Luxembourg0.17%
🇱🇻 Latvia0.16%
🇪🇪 Estonia0.12%
🇦🇱 Albania0.09%
🇮🇸 Iceland0.06%
🇲🇪 Montenegro0.03%
Total 100.00%

Members have pre-arranged mechanisms to divide NATO alliance expenses evenly.

Getting into specifics, the members are paying for:

  • Civilian staff wages and overhead costs of running NATO headquarters.
  • Running strategic commands, joint operations, early warning and radar systems, training, etc.
  • Defense communications systems, harbors, airfields, and fuel supplies.

The Future of NATO

While outright nation-on-nation conflict is becoming more rare, threats to the collective security of NATO allies have not disappeared.

While countries may have differing opinions over the exact amount each should contribute, rising expenditures are a sign that NATO is still a priority for the near future.

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Politics

Map Explainer: Key Facts About Afghanistan

This map explainer looks at Afghanistan from a structural point of view, delving into geography and population patterns.

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afghanistan map explainer

Map Explainer: Key Facts About Afghanistan

The country of Afghanistan has a long and complicated history of domination by foreign powers and conflict between factions within the country.

While Afghanistan is well covered in headlines and news stories, the lion’s share of this coverage is directly related to conflict. As a result, Afghanistan is viewed by many in Western countries as a war-torn desert, with conflict, ideology, and geopolitical power obscuring more practical information about the country and its people.

In the Afghanistan map graphic above, we step back and examine Afghanistan from a structural point of view. How does its unique landscape influence population patterns? How does this geography influence the economy and relationships with neighboring nations? Let’s dive in.

Mountain High, Valley Low

Afghanistan’s rugged landscape is defined by towering snow-capped mountains, fertile valleys, and expansive deserts.

First, the country has a wide variety of climate extremes. There is more than 100ºC (180ºF) separating the record high and low temperatures.

The extremes don’t stop at temperature though. Afghanistan has the sixth-highest elevation span in the world, with 7,234m (23,734 ft) between its highest and lowest point. Afghanistan is one of 44 landlocked nations in the world, which helps explain why its lowest point is so much higher than sea level.

For those living in North America, the country’s terrain has been compared to Colorado, with Kabul sharing similarities with Denver.

Where Do People Live in Afghanistan?

Settlement patterns in Afghanistan are similar to other countries in the region; people cluster where there is access to fresh water.

As the cartogram below demonstrates, a large portion of the country’s population is located around Kabul, and the region adjacent to the Kabul River.

afghanistan gridded population cartogram

Source

The southwestern province of Nimruz is the most sparsely populated area in the country. The Wakhan Corridor—which connects Afghanistan to China—is also very sparsely populated, with about 14,000 total residents.

Key Facts About Afghanistan’s Demographics

Afghanistan has a very youthful population. The country’s median age of 19 years is one of the youngest in the world, and is low compared to its neighbors Pakistan (24) and Iran (30).

afghanistan demographic population pyramid

Islam is the official state religion of Afghanistan. 99.7% of the Afghan population are Muslim, one of the highest proportions of the 49 Muslim-majority countries.

So far in 2021, the OCHA estimates that 550,000 people in Afghanistan are “internally displaced” due to conflict, and this number may rise still as new data tracks the final days of the Taliban’s takeover of the country. The majority of those displaced persons are children.

Paving the Way

The Ring Road connecting Afghanistan’s major cities began in the 1960s but was soon cut short by war. After the U.S. took control in 2001, new road construction began in earnest.

Between 2002 and 2016, USAID and the Department of Defense (DoD) spent approximately $2.8 billion building and maintaining Afghanistan’s road infrastructure. This number doesn’t include additional investment from other sources that poured in to improve the country’s road network.

The result is a more comprehensive road network, but one that is difficult to maintain. A 2016 report found collapsed bridges and sections of road around the country that were washed out.

Resources and Relationships

Afghanistan is a critical source of fresh water for the arid region. Several major regional rivers flow from the country’s mountainous eastern provinces into neighboring countries, so any new irrigation schemes and dam infrastructure will come with a geopolitical price tag as well.

Already in the recent past, tensions have increased with Iran and Pakistan over the flow of water crossing the border.

Outside countries are also very interested in Afghanistan’s rich mineral resources. Decades of near-continuous conflict have made mining a tough proposition in the country, but with growing demand for resources such as lithium and rare earths, that may soon change.

afghanistan mineral production potential

Source

Afghanistan is estimated to have over $1 trillion of untapped mineral reserves, and outside interests are taking notice.

China said it was ready for “friendly and cooperative relations” with the new Taliban regime, and it’s possible that investment from China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) may step in to fill the vacuum left by departing Western powers.

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