Mathew Biadun | Contributing Writer
A view of the White House. / Philip Rozenski, 2019
The Pew Research Center has been polling American trust in the Government since 1958. Then, under President Dwight D. Eisenhower, polls reported that 73% of Americans trusted their government to do the right thing. This number peaked under President Johnson in 1964, at 77%. Now? It’s reached a staggering record low of just 16%.
Not all of this can be blamed on the Biden administration. Confidence in the government has been in a free-fall since 2001, when it was at 54%. It fell below 20% for the first time in 2012, and has hovered around that number for the past decade, over the course of three presidential administrations. This longevity has made it particularly difficult to track the reasons behind these horrible statistics.
Equally, or even more worrying are recent poll-numbers that show a shift in American attitudes against democracy. This poll, conducted by the University of Virginia Center for Politics, surveyed roughly 2,000 registered voters. 52% of Biden-supporters viewed Republicans as a threat to American life, while 47% of Trump supporters viewed Democrats as the same. This hyper-partisan divide has represented itself in calls for violence. 41% of Biden supporters deem Republican goals as dangerous enough to warrant violence; 38% of Trump supporters say the same about Democrats.
Donald Trump’s government, and extremist elements of his party, have been accused of being anti-democratic. Evidence in this poll seemingly supports this. 31% of Trump-Supporters advocate seeking ‘alternatives to democracy’. 24% of Biden-Supporters said the same.
However, not everything is so morose. The poll only questioned a very tiny subset of the American electorate. Additionally, the Pew Research Center also found that 84% of those surveyed believed American trust in the government could be restored. Written responses gave suggestions on how to do this. Common answers were introducing term limits, amplifying government clarity and apparentness, and restricting the role of money in politics. 15% specifically mentioned a need for ‘better political leadership’, specifically a call for cooperation, honesty and understanding between politicians. While American confidence in democracy and the democratically-elected government may be in doubt, it seems possible for it to make a comeback.
Bell, Peter. “Public Trust in Government: 1958-2023.” Pew Research Center - U.S. Politics & Policy, Pew Research Center, 19 Sept. 2023, www.pewresearch.org/politics/2023/09/19/public-trust-in-government-1958-2023/.
Irwin, Lauren. “Poll Finds Support for Exploring Alternatives to Democracy, Using Violence to Stop Opponents.” The Hill, The Hill, 18 Oct. 2023, thehill.com/homenews/campaign/4262455-poll-americans-trump-biden-voters-support-alte rnatives-to-democracy-violence-stop-opponents/#:~:text=A%20new%20poll%20found%2 0that,party%20from%20achieving%20its%20goals.
Rainie, Lee. “Key Findings about Americans’ Declining Trust in Government and Each Other.” Pew Research Center, Pew Research Center, 22 July 2019, www.pewresearch.org/short-reads/2019/07/22/key-findings-about-americans-declining-tru st-in-government-and-each-other/