As the United States continues to recover from a tumultuous year of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, reckoning with racial inequality and electing new leaders, Americans’ confidence in the country’s major institutions has slid, a new Gallup poll says.
Just 33% of Americans expressed “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in 14 of the country’s primary institutions, placing the public’s perception of institutions — like police, public schools and the presidency — including at the same level it stood at in 2019, according to the poll taken between June 1 and July 5.
Gallup's data further makes clear that trust in the institutions it tracks varies dramatically along party lines.
Police gain trust, 13 other institutions lose it
Confidence decreased in all but one category this year: police.
Police confidence dropped by 5% in 2020, but regained ground this year and stands at 51%. It's one of three American institutions that holds support from a majority of the country, albeit by a slim margin.
A USA TODAY/Ipsos poll found similar levels of trust in the police, but also broad concerns about law enforcement tactics and equality. Only 1 in 5 polled said police treat everyone equally, and 9 of 10 supported training officers to avoid violence.
"The country has always used that phrase 'tough on crime,' and, if anything, things have gotten worse," Kathy Kelly, 67, a health care consultant from Glendale, Arizona, said in a follow-up interview after being called in the USA TODAY/Ipsos poll. "I don't know that we can get any tougher on crime. I think we have to be more discerning about what we're getting tough on."
According to the Gallup poll, small businesses hold Americans' highest level of confidence, maintaining 70% of trust from the public. The military follows closely behind, holding 69% of Americans' trust. Still, both of those institutions saw decreases in trust from last year.
The institutions that saw the largest decreases in confidence were public schools, which lost 9%, and the medical system, which lost 7%. Both decreases were likely largely influenced by the pandemic, which crippled hospitals and forced schools to transition to fully remote teaching.
Other sizeable decreases in confidence occurred in small businesses, organized religion and banks, which each lost 5%.
Partisan divide is clear in many categories
Confidence in most of these institutions is starkly divided down partisan lines. For example, the police are trusted by 76% of Republicans and only 31% of Democrats, whereas the presidency — held by a Democrat — is trusted by 62% of Democrats and 13% of Republicans. Other sharp partisan divides are seen in trust of newspapers and the church.
Gallup began tracking the country’s confidence in its institutions in 1973 during the Watergate scandal, though it zeroed in on 14 core institutions in 1993. In the last 15 years, the public’s level of confidence in those institutions has not risen above 36%.
This year's polling shows a return to more "typical levels" of trust after disruption caused by the events of last year.
"When the coronavirus pandemic hit the U.S. in 2020, it caused great upheaval in most aspects of Americans' lives. It also resulted in an overall uptick in average confidence across 14 institutions, driven largely by sharp one-year increases — among the largest Gallup has measured — for the U.S. medical system and public schools," Gallup wrote in its poll analysis. "Now, with the worst of the pandemic seemingly over and the intensity of the racial justice protests subsiding, Americans' confidence has retreated to more typical levels seen in recent years."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Gallup: Americans' trust in institutions slips, split on party lines