Opinion | U.S. institutions are polling about as well as King George III did in 1776

As the Declaration of Independence tells it, Britain’s King George III, having committed a “long train of abuses and usurpations,” forfeited “the consent of the governed,” and with it, his right to rule the 13 colonies.

There were no public opinion polls in 18th-century America, so assessing that statement means we pretty much have to take Thomas Jefferson’s word for it, fleshed out, of course, by whatever historians have been able to glean from newspapers, letters and pamphlets of the era.

Two hundred and forty-seven years later, public opinion data abounds. And it suggests that the contemporary United States is going through a loss of legitimacy no less challenging, in its way, than the one that ultimately engulfed George III. As this country wrapped up its birthday party on July 4, polls were confirming a continued, and, in some respects, increasing, lack of public confidence in its political, economic and social institutions.

The share of the public that expresses a “great deal,” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the presidency (26 percent), Congress (8 percent) and the Supreme Court (27 percent) ticked up slightly since 2022 but still registers at or near all-time lows, according to a new Gallup survey released Thursday.

The percentage expressing confidence in the presidency midway through President Biden’s first term represents a surprising decline from the level — mid-to-high 30s — that prevailed during Donald Trump’s tumultuous, polarizing White House tenure. Congress is down from 30 percent in 2004 and 42 percent a half-century ago; the Supreme Court’s percentage is 20 points lower than it was two decades ago.

Megan McArdle: Reasons to believe American democracy has a bright future

Truly stunning are the downward trends for institutions that traditionally enjoy substantial public esteem. The percentage expressing a “great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the U.S. military has dropped 14 points since 2018, from 74 percent to 60 percent — the latter being a new low for the 21st century.

Only 43 percent express strong confidence in the police, down 21 percentage points from the all-time Gallup high of 64 percent in 2004 — and the lowest in the 30 years since Gallup began asking the question. Over the past half-century, confidence in public schools has plunged 36 points; it now stands at 26 percent, also an all-time low for Gallup.

The print and electronic media, once broadly trusted to hold other institutions accountable, now rank close to the bottom in Gallup’s confidence surveys. In a Reuters-Ipsos poll released in June, 73 percent of respondents agreed that “the mainstream media is more interested in making money than telling the truth.”

In a different survey last year, 69 percent of Americans told Gallup they do not have confidence in their national government, the worst rating of any country in the Group of Seven advanced industrial democracies.

Consistent with the above, the Reuters/Ipsos poll found that 69 percent of Americans think the economy is “rigged to advantage the rich and powerful,” 64 percent believe “traditional parties and politicians don’t care about people like [you],” and 61 percent agree with the statement “America needs a strong leader to take the country back from the rich and powerful.”

Caveats apply, of course. A third or so of respondents registered at least “some” confidence in the institutions mentioned above. The confidence Republicans and Democrats express often varies depending on the institution. Skepticism of large institutions, public and private, is part of the national character, and has been at least since, well, 1776.

The criminal justice system, for example, whose current confidence rating, 17 percent, is the same as it was 30 years ago, has never scored higher than 34 percent during that period.

What’s more, the public has reality-based reasons to lose confidence in major institutions. The military’s declining rating undoubtedly reflects the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan nearly two years ago; public schools were still reeling from criticism over extended pandemic-related lockdowns when local conflicts over teaching about race, gender and other controversial issues broke out.

The Post’s View: Beneath the July 4 fireworks, remember America’s light

For all that, a major reason Americans are losing confidence in large institutions might be that so many people in politics so often tell them that they ought to.

On the progressive left, fundamental critiques of U.S. society that question the founding of the country itself have gained traction. As for conservatism, Trump has turned much of it from a doctrine of stability into a radical, reactionary movement that sees conspiracies everywhere.

It’s hard for a center to hold when candidates seek competitive advantage by trashing it. Yes, the United States has weathered previous crises of confidence, and it’s hardly in a pre-revolutionary mood now: As the Declaration of Independence says, “mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.” Yet long-term stability depends on replacing mere acquiescence with a more positive view of the system than many Americans currently hold.

Get Insightful, Cutting-Edge Content Daily - Join "The Neo Jim Crow" Newsletter!

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.

Get Insightful, Cutting-Edge, Black Content Daily - Join "The Neo Jim Crow" Newsletter!

We don’t spam! Read our [link]privacy policy[/link] for more info.

Get Insightful, Cutting-Edge, Black Content Daily - Join "The Neo Jim Crow" Newsletter!

We don’t spam! Read our [link]privacy policy[/link] for more info.

This post was originally published on this site