Republican Congress Remains the Lowest Rated Institution in American Society

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So Why Do They Keep Geting Reelected?

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By Jeffrey M. Jones

PRINCETON, N.J. — Americans’ confidence in most major U.S. institutions remains well below the historical average, especially the Republican Congress, according to the latest Gallup poll on the subject.

“Congress is the institution in which Americans express the least confidence this year,” Gallup says in its analysis of surveys with a random sample of Americans. Only 8 percent of the public express any confidence in the Republican Congress, just one point above its 7 percent rating last year — the lowest Gallup has ever measured for any institution.

The military and small business are rated higher by the public than their historical norms based on the percentage of people surveyed who expressed “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the institution.

The U.S. military confidence rating now stands at 72 percent and 67 percent of the public say they have confidence in small businesses.

“Americans’ confidence in most major institutions has been down for many years as the nation has dealt with prolonged wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a major recession and sluggish economic improvement, and partisan gridlock in Washington,” Gallup says in its analysis of the data.

The last year most institutions were at or above their historical average levels of confidence was 2004, the last year Americans’ satisfaction with the way things were going averaged more than 40 percent. Only 28 percent of Americans are satisfied with the state of the nation now.

“From a broad perspective, Americans’ confidence in all institutions over the (past) two years has been the lowest since Gallup began systematic updates of a larger set of institutions in 1993,” the polling outfit says.

The average confidence rating of the 14 institutions asked about annually since 1993 is 32 percent this year, just one point above the all-institution average of 31 percent last year.

“Americans were generally more confident in all institutions in the late 1990s and early 2000s as the country enjoyed a strong economy and a rally in support for U.S. institutions after the 9/11 terrorist attacks,” Gallup says.

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Public confidence in Congress, organized religion, banks, the Supreme Court and the presidency show the greatest deficits compared with their historical averages, all running at least 10 points below that mark, according to Gallup’s numbers.

“Americans’ frustration with the government’s performance has eroded the trust they have in all U.S. political institutions,” Gallup says. “Likewise, Americans’ confidence in banks fell after the bursting of the housing bubble and the subsequent financial crisis.”

The large decline in confidence in organized religion is likely tied to a decline in religiosity overall, Gallup says, but is also due to sex scandals that have plagued religious organizations, most notably the Catholic Church. Only 42 percent of the public express any confidence in the church or organized religion, the lowest Gallup has ever measured. The prior low was 44 percent in 2012.

Confidence in the police, at 52 percent this year, ties the low for that institution recorded in the first year it was measured, 1993. In the past year, the police have been a major focus of news coverage in several incidents in which white police officers’ actions resulted in the deaths of black men they were trying to apprehend.

“Still, the church and the police rank among the highest-rated institutions, trailing only the military and small business among the 15 institutions tested in this year’s poll,” Gallup says.

Further back in history, the church ranked first or tied for first in all but one survey from 1973 through 1988. Since then, the military has been the top-ranked institution each year except 1997, when small business was first.

Congress has ranked last each year since 2010, and a total of 12 times since 1973. Other institutions that have held this unwelcome distinction in the past include big business (nine times), health maintenance organizations (eight), the criminal justice system (six) and organized labor (four).

Gallup’s Implications

“Americans continue to show lower levels of confidence in most of the major institutions central to U.S. society, with only the military and small business getting ratings in 2015 that are above their historical averages,” Gallup concludes. “That speaks to the broader dissatisfaction Americans have with the state of the nation more generally over the past decade as the U.S. has faced serious economic, international and political challenges.”

Of course Americans have tended to be more confident in U.S. institutions when the economy has been strong, such as in the mid-1980s and the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“Although Americans are now more upbeat about the economy than they were in 2008-2013, they are not yet convinced that the economy is good,” Gallup says.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted June 2-7, 2015, with a random sample of 1,527 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is plus or 3 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting. Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50 percent cellphone respondents and 50 percent landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

© 2015, Glynn Wilson. All rights reserved.

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