Public trust in almost every major institution in America has declined precipitously over the past 20 years, according to the latest data from the General Social Survey, which has polled Americans about their feelings on a variety of political and social issues for more than 35 years.
Trust in major corporations plummeted following the Enron scandal and has declined since then, so that the 16 percent of Americans who now say they have a great deal of confidence in big companies is the lowest figure on record.
Banks and financial institutions were holding up a little better until last year, when the trust score dropped to 19 percent from 30 percent two years earlier. This is not an all-time low—confidence in the banks had been slightly lower during the S&L crisis of the early 90s—but there is every reason to believe confidence is continuing to decline.
And confidence in the press has declined even more precipitously, from 29 percent in 1976 to just nine percent in 2008. Confidence in television is likewise at 9 percent, down from 18 percent in 1976 and 11 percent eight years earlier.
The only major institution to have gained a statistically significant amount of trust since 2000, when President George W. Bush took office, is the military, which is now the most trusted major institution in the nation, with the number of Americans expressing a great deal of confidence in the military rising from 41 percent in 2000 to 57 percent in 2002. The confidence level peaked at 59 percent in 2004 and has fallen slightly since, but at 52 percent it remains considerably higher that trust in other major institutions.