Declining Trust in Our Government


Is the American people\'s trust in our government declining? According to
most people, it definitely is. Recent polls make this argument very valid. In
1995, the Princeton Survey Research Associates conducted a telephone interview
of 1514 random sample adults. In this interview, people were asked how much of
the time they trusted in the federal government to do the right thing. Twenty-
one percent said most of the time and seventy-one percent said only some of the
time. When asked the same question of their state governments, the results
were only slightly better. Thirty percent said most of the time and sixty-two
percent said only some of the time ("Why Don\'t"). This indicates that a
majority of the American people believe that the American government is not
doing the right thing in a lot of the actions it takes. Of course, nobody
expects the government to operate perfectly with no mistakes, because this is
not a perfect world. These numbers are too high though. What caused this
problem in the United States, what is the extend of this problem in our country,
and is this distrust of our government even a serious problem at all? These are
three questions that need to be addressed in out society today.
What really has caused the American people to distrust our government and
when did this trend actually begin? I do not believe there is any clear answer
to these questions and I do not believe it would ever be possible to pinpoint
any exact reason for the feelings of the American people. One reason cited by
some is that it is the fault of poor leaders. Two commonly blamed leaders are
President Johnson and President Nixon. Two of the biggest drops in the public\'s
confidence in our government occurred in 1964, during the bombing of Vietnam,
and in 1972, during Watergate (Nye). Although these two events may have
contributed to the distrust of the American government, I do not believe that
two events and two leaders can be held totally responsible. For one thing,
these things occurred over twenty years ago, why is there still distrust today.
Not only does this distrust still exist, but many would say that it has
increased greatly since then. I do not thing that two leaders can be pinpointed
and blamed for destroying the trust in our government. Perhaps though the blame
could be laid on American political leaders in general. In a 1995 poll, thirty-
five percent said the main reason that they do not trust the federal government
is that politicians lack honesty and integrity. Another twenty-four percent
cited the reason for their distrust as politicians not being concerned with the
interests and well-being of the people ("Why Don\'t"). It makes sense that if
the American\'s do not trust the people who make up our government, then they
will not trust the government as a whole.
Just how wide spread is the problem of distrust in the American government?
The Post/ABC News polling organization ran seven different polls between 1985-
1987 asking, "How much of the time do you trust the government in Washington to
do what is right?" Those saying only some of the time or never ranged from
fifty-six to sixty-two percent (Dewey). A 1994 poll showed that only fifteen
percent of the American public had confidence in our federal government and only
thirty percent had confidence in their state and local governments. Some people
may want to believe that distrust of the United States government is limited to
only a small segment of the population, such as the lower class. These polls
indicate otherwise. It appears that a vast majority of Americans have very
little trust in our political leaders. It is clear distrust of the government
is wide spread, but is it a serious problem?
Does it matter if the people do not trust their government or is it
something that should be expected? Many people state that the cynicism and
distrust in America are not a problem at all. One opinion is that a mistrust of
government has been around since our countries beginning and is nothing to worry
about. It is even noted that our country was founded with a mistrust of
government, in particular, mistrust of King George of England (Nye). Another
opinion is that even though Americans do not trust the every day activities of
the government, there is still a very positive attitude about the underlying
constitutional principles that this country was founded upon, and that is the
most important thing to