Home > Uncategorized > Pew 2018 Survey Shows Erosion of Trust in Government Over Time… But Hope that it CAN be Restored

Pew 2018 Survey Shows Erosion of Trust in Government Over Time… But Hope that it CAN be Restored

February 8, 2021

Charles Blow’s column in today’s NYTimes, A Holistic View of Vaccine Hesitancy, drew heavily on data he gleaned from a 2018 Pew Trust survey. Mr. Blow’s column focused on the reluctance of young Blacks to get the vaccine because of their lack of trust in the government. But when I examined the chart and the Pew Trust’s analysis I came to a different conclusion. Here’s the chart: 

And here’s my conclusion: I am not at all surprised to see that those of us over 65 have three times as many “high trust” individuals in our cohort as those under 29 and  twice as much as those under 49. My cohort came of age at a time when John F. Kennedy persuaded voters to invest in a government program to put a man on the moon and LBJ persuaded his colleagues from the South that the government should aggressively pursue Civil Rights and and his fiscally conservative colleagues that anti-poverty legislation was in the best interest of our country. We also can recall the national push to take polio vaccine, a miracle drug that eliminated that disease entirely.

Those in the 30-49 cohort came of age after the public learned about the government’s withholding of information about the Viet Nam war and Nixon tarnished the Presidency with the Watergate break-in and cover-up. They cam of age when Ronald Reagan persuaded voters that government was the problem, an intrusive “blob” that was corrupt and full of incompetents whose primary mission was writing entangling regulations. He convinced Americans that paying taxes was a burden and that lending a helping hand to those in need would create a class of dependents.  Hearing that message relentlessly for four decades it is no surprise that white Supremacists don’t trust the election results and young Blacks don’t trust government agencies.

The youngest cohort surveyed came of age after Clinton’s conduct in office and the relentless attacks that resulted further diminished the nation’s confidence in the presidency and government in general. They also came of age after Columbine and 9-11 convinced Americans that they needed to be on guard every minute of every day, that 24-7 surveillance of potential terrorists was preferable to a repetition of the Twin Towers episode and armed guards, locked doors and mounted cameras were needed more than counseling in schools. 

The good news in the Pew Survey is this: “More than eight-in-ten Americans (84%) believe it is possible to improve the level of confidence people have in the government.”  As a “high truster”, I am certain Joe Biden is looking hard to restore our faith in the government and am confident that there are politicians in both parties who appreciate the need for the public to trust the government and, more importantly, to trust each other. 

One step we can take to help undo the legacy of the past two generations is to begin rebuilding our infrastructure, starting with schools. When I was growing up in post World War II America it seemed like every place I lived that the community was looking out for us: building new schools;  building new ball fields, community centers, and swimming pools; telling us repeatedly that the future of our country depended on US. If we want the next generation to have greater trust in the government and in each other, we need to give children those messages and engage in practices that show we mean what we say. When we say children are important but fail to provide enough money for all of them to attend a decent school, afford a decent home, or have sufficient food it is no surprise that they think the government is failing them and all adults and politicians are hypocritical. Time to walk the talk. 

  1. Byron Knutsen
    February 9, 2021 at 12:19 am

    I am always concerned about how much the government is to provide for people especially on a long term basis. I think roads, mail service, protection, k-12 schools, and especially in the last 12 months, more that what we have seen in this pandemic for certain, but homes and food and pay for college attendance, sometime the individual has to come forward and provide for themselves even though it may not be top notched. As I watched on NBC, CBS and ABC and PBS the college students partying during breaks, I just think we are going way to far in handouts.

    BUT, there is no doubt many need short term assistance but not long term. Training in skills is much better than monetary handouts.

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